Poll workers answer call to help in Franklin County

  • Poll worker Sandy Campbell, left, checks in a voter in Northfield Town Hall during the annual town election in July. Town clerks contacted by the Greenfield Recorder said they have enough poll workers for the Nov. 3 election. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/4/2020 2:54:26 PM
Modified: 10/4/2020 2:54:21 PM

If the COVID-19 threat is scaring away poll workers for the upcoming election, it seems as though no one told anyone in Franklin County.

Town clerks contacted by the Recorder said they are all set when it comes to people to help at polling locations on Nov. 3. Some credited information on the Massachusetts secretary of state’s website to inform people of the potential issue.

Though Orange Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer said she was initially concerned there would be a shortage of poll workers in her town, she now has a sufficient number.

“They’re all ready and willing to work,” she said.

Blackmer said safety precautions will be in place at the St. Mary’s Parish Center to try to prevent anyone from spreading or contracting COVID-19.

She explained there are typically 10 poll workers per shift, and they are paid a small stipend depending on how many hours they work.

Wendell Town Clerk Gretchen Smith said her town is “getting by with a small tight-knit group of wonderful poll workers.”

“We were in need,” Greenfield City Clerk Kathryn Scott recalled. “We’ve had a great response from citizens reaching out, offering their service. At this point, we have plenty of workers to staff the November election. Thankfully, we are in good shape.”

Also, Scott explained, a community member took to Facebook to make an appeal for poll workers after hearing “through the grapevine” about the need.

Concern over the shortage of poll workers has been publicized by news outlets such as the Washington Post, Time and ABC, which have noted that many poll workers are over 60 years old. For example, the Washington Post cites data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission stating that, in the 2018 general election, 58 percent of poll workers were over the age of 60. These circumstances could create problems in 2020, given that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk for becoming severely ill from COVID-19 increases with age.

According to the secretary of state’s website, poll workers are hired by local election officials to help check-in voters, distribute ballots, tally votes and otherwise assist voters in the polling place. This year, they will also be needed to assist in sanitizing booths and pens, directing voters and monitoring social distancing in the polling places.

“Having enough poll workers for every precinct is the best way to keep lines short and reduce crowding in polling places,” the website reads.

Shelburne Town Clerk Joe Judd said he has a team of 28 poll workers, though not all of them will work Nov. 3.

“The problem is, a lot of them aren’t willing to work,” Judd said, noting older adults’ increased risk for becoming severely ill from COVID-19. “They’re women and men in their later years, and they’re worried about COVID.”

Judd said he inherited some of these workers and he has added to the list since taking the job 6½ years ago.

“It’s really a good group,” he said. “I’m very blessed and fortunate to have them in place.”

He said there are three shifts, and a couple of poll workers will work two shifts. He also said he has several volunteers who will assistant workers with counting ballots.

Barbara Hancock, who is the town clerk, treasurer and tax collector in Deerfield, said her town has plenty of poll workers, too. In fact, considering several of them are new and will require help to get acclimated, “we’ve probably got all we can handle,” she said.

According to the secretary of state’s website, poll workers generally must be registered voters in Massachusetts, though up to two poll workers per precinct may be 16 or 17 years old. This year, cities and towns have the option of hiring workers regardless of their registration status or political party affiliation if they cannot find enough poll workers.

The website suggests people consider working in another community in their area if their city or town is not listed as needing poll workers. The list, which is available at bit.ly/3n720Gj, does not include any Franklin County towns.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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