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State BOE faces challenges in recruiting poll workers, Duke professor and board chair says

The coronavirus has generated numerous challenges for the upcoming November election, among them the recruitment of poll workers.

According to Damon Circosta, chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and an adjunct professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, the board faces multiple challenges regarding the enrollment of poll workers.

“We are not behind, but we are certainly not ahead,” Circosta said.

The board anticipates one issue may be people registering to serve as poll workers but failing to show up to their shifts due to fear and uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another challenge is that more poll workers will be needed to work on Election Day than in a normal year, to enforce COVID-19 social-distancing and sanitation protocols, Circosta said. This is added to the fact that, according to Circosta, the board expects record voter turnout given increased interest in this year’s election.

Another one of the board’s concerns is that the majority of election workers are older or retired North Carolinians, which is the demographic with the highest risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms. These poll workers usually work many elections in a row.

For young people, volunteering as a poll worker can be an opportunity to stand on the front lines of democracy, Circosta said. He said it can also be an act of service: a way to give back to those who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to make voting run as smoothly and safely as possible.

In order to become a poll worker, applicants must be registered to vote in the county in which they plan to serve. The state Board of Elections has information about the process on its website

This job is not a volunteer position—poll workers are paid for their service. Poll workers are expected to work from 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Election Day, in addition to three to four hours of paid training prior to their shifts. Their responsibilities include setting up voting equipment, checking in voters and processing ballots. 

“There are a lot of different jobs that election workers are involved in, but at its core they are all doing one thing: making sure that we securely, accurately and safely give everybody who is eligible an opportunity to vote,” Circosta said.

Democracy Heroes, a new campaign started by the board, includes an interest form for prospective election workers. Those names are regularly forwarded to county-level boards of election to assist their recruitment efforts. 

According to Circosta, the Board of Elections has recruited more than 10,000 poll workers through the Democracy Heroes campaign. North Carolina counties also hire poll workers through local recruitment campaigns.

For more election coverage from across North Carolina, visit One Vote N.C., a collaborative between The Chronicle and six other student newspapers that aims to help college students across the state navigate the November election.

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