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Ohio Training Poll Workers To Handle Long Lines And High Emotions

Pat DeVito cleans a voting booth during early voting at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Cleveland.
Tony Dejak
Associated Press
Pat DeVito cleans a voting booth during early voting at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Cleveland.

While early voting mostly started without a hitch, the Ohio Secretary of State's Office says poll workers are being prepared in case any one of a number of controversies arise at voting locations this election.

Merle Madrid, chief of staff for Secretary of State Frank LaRose, says county boards of elections have trained poll workers in de-escalation techniques in case they encounter trouble.

"People's emotions are high this election," Madrid says. "What we don't want to do is have those emotions overtake the situation."

Between the state's face mask mandate, and President Trump's threads of election fraud and "poll watchers," Madrid says people need to be clear about the rules. He emphasized that campaigning is not allowed within 100 feet of a voting location, and only observers who register with the county board of elections are permitted inside.

Madrid said that county election boards on Tuesday reported long lines but otherwise smooth experiences with the first day of early voting. Lines may have seemed longer than they actually were, Madrid added, because people were spaced out under the state's social distancing guidelines.

"People understood the need to wear that mask under the governor's mandate, stay six feet apart, and nobody was out there trying to cause a ruckus," Madrid says.

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary of State's Office have urged election boards to boost their recruitment of poll workers – who help guide voters into polling places or early voting centers, check their registrations, set them up to vote, and otherwise keep an eye on the process.

"Many of these are older Ohioans, who are retirees, perhaps," Madrid says. "Unfortunately, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic impacts that population more severely than it does younger populations."

While a record number of voters are voting absentee this fall, LaRose expects high in-person turnout as well. Even with health precautions, Madrid says many existing poll workers won't feel comfortable at a crowded voting location, while others may suddenly call in sick or have to quarantine due to COVID-19.

The Secretary of State's Office set a goal of recruiting 55,000 poll workers statewide before Election Day. As of Wednesday, Madrid says election boards have already signed up and trained 46,000.

In particular, Madrid commended Columbus and Franklin County – which is just 2,000 shy of its goal – for recruiting younger voters and giving city and county employees a paid day off to work the polls. The Ohio State University offers something similarfor its employees.

Elsewhere in Central Ohio, Licking County has already surpassed its recruitment goal, while Fayette, Perry, Union and Delaware counties are getting close.

"The best thing that could happen on Election Day, is that at 6 a.m., as polls are getting ready to open at 6:30, we can say to our reserve force of elections workers and poll workers, go ahead and head home for the day, we've got what we need," Madrid says. "That's the gold standard that we want to reach."

This year's emphasis on younger poll workers could also help support elections in years to come.

"Hopefully it's a new generation who don't just come out in 2020, but come out in 2021," he says.

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.
Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.