Why I am not serving in a polling place in the August primary

A few weeks ago my local registrars emailed all recent polling place officials to ask if we would serve in the August primary. I was not looking forward to the anticipated email where I would have to choose. I had been thinking about it, knowing lots of facts positive and negative:

  • There would be a huge need for officials, as many would choose not to serve. Many novice officials would need to be recruited and trained.
  • Based on my experience, there is a need for an experienced, certified moderator in each polling place. Several times in recent years I had served as the only certified moderator in a polling place with previous experience. Either as the Moderator or an Assistant Registrar with the other moderators and assistant registrars all inexperienced, certified or not. My volunteering would mean a polling place would have sufficient knowledge to work, if there were enough officials.
  • I am in a moderate risk category with ample age and a moderate preexisting condition. I would seek agreement from my partner before I would put her in danger.
  • I was not sure how effective I could be in a mask for a 17-18 hour day.
  • I predicted (and still predict) a disaster news theme, as I predict at least several towns will have a number of polling places that do not work. (Similarly I predict a few will fail to provide an efficient and deliberate count of absentee ballots  as well.)
  • I could save, at most, one polling place from disaster, yet maybe despite my prediction, the vast majority of polling places with all new officials will work. Or some other experienced moderator would save mine, anyway.

I read the email carefully before responding:

  • The email said there might be as few as three officials in a polling place – that sealed it for me. A polling place like those in our town had about 1,000 voters in the 2016 Presidential Primary. It was busy in 2016 with that number. We had about the minimum, eight people, to handle a check-in line and ballot clerk for each party. A primary is busy serving many stressed voters who say, occasionally correctly, that our lists say they are not registered in the party they think they are. Even at half that number of voters we should have eight officials – plus we need to supervise voter distancing, pen distribution and cleaning etc. Three could not service 500 or more voters in a day. The normal non-COVID minimum is six officials, for any size polling place.
  • AND there is curbside voting, requiring two officials to spend about 10 minutes entirely dedicated to going back-and-forth to the parking lot to service one voter – that would leave only one official inside handling everything. A no-no leaving the polling place with a single official from one party, doing the job of eight officials.
  • No matter the risks, I could not save a polling place with three or anywhere near that few officials.

I have proposed to assist in counting absentee ballots or other central office function. There, I can likely make a significant difference. Early in my election official career, I led a central count absentee ballot function five times.

PS: Today’s Hartford Courant points out that number of three officials is a statewide minimum: Challenges await in presidential primary – Towns, cities prepare for Aug. 11 vote amid COVID-19 concerns <read>



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