Central Texas election officials confront nationwide shortage of poll workers

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Amid a national shortage of election workers fueled by the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Texas election officials are preparing for record voter turnout with potentially fewer resources for the November elections.

Williamson County Election Administrator Chris Davis is confident the county has enough election workers, 200-300, to manage early voting, which begins Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 30. But that number will have to double to cover the county’s estimated 60 Election Day voting sites.

“We still need poll workers,” Davis said. “Volunteering to work in November has given them pause.”
Election workers are primarily, according to Davis, older, retired residents. The risks posed by the coronavirus have led some to sit out the 2020 election cycle.

In Texas, voters are encouraged, not required, to wear masks at polling sites. Davis said voters choosing not to wear a mask on Election Day will be directed to more secluded areas.

“(Poll worker) safety, as well as voter safety, is going to be paramount,” Davis said.

You can apply to be an election worker in Williamson County here.

Facebook has joined the effort to recruit poll workers by prompting users to volunteer through the social media platform, while also offering employees, including those based in Austin, to receive paid time off to volunteer. Old Navy and Target announced similar initiatives.

“We want to do the best that we possibly can to help our democracy continue to thrive,” said Robert Traynham, director of public relations at Facebook.

Travis County will require 2,000 election workers — including poll workers, ballot-by-mail hand delivery clerks, box truck drivers and other positions. While the county clerk still needs more poll workers, a spokesperson for the county clerk said they have received a surge in recent applications to volunteer.

Hays County avoided a shortage of election workers by beginning recruitment six months ago. Training for election workers is taking place virtually, due to the pandemic.

Jennifer Anderson, the election administrator, said they are emphasizing the need for voters to check their registration now and to take advantage of the expanded early voting period.

“That is their best defense when it comes to long waits and being able to avoid big crowds,” Anderson told KXAN.

You can apply to be an election worker in Hays County here.

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