Metro Atlanta counties on pace to staff polls by election, officials say

Poll workers prepare voters for the machines on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 during the Georgia Primary in Atlanta. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Poll workers prepare voters for the machines on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 during the Georgia Primary in Atlanta. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Credit: JOHN SPINK

Credit: JOHN SPINK

Push to hire and train more poll workers seen as key to avoid frustration on Election Day

As the November election inches closer, state and county officials are working to make sure they have enough poll workers to adequately staff Atlanta and its suburbs.

For the most part, metro Atlanta county election officials said they’re on pace to be fully staffed by Nov. 3, with one county saying there is “currently a surplus” of enlisted poll workers.

Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs added that the state is about 75% of the way to meeting its recruitment goal of 20,000 poll workers. While early indications look good, county and state officials are wary that staffing issues could pop up by November. As a result, they’re attempting to overstaff in anticipation of problems.

“They need to keep more on hand than they really need and be prepared for one-third of people on that list to not show up,” Fuchs said. “Even though they say they’re good to go, they’ve got to keep in mind that somebody might commit and then back out.”

Election officials are under pressure to ensure the general election is smoother than the primary, when Georgia’s voting problems became a national news story. Poll worker shortages and too-few voting places led to hours-long lines to vote. State and county election officials said they would improve poll worker training and consider adding voting precincts to prevent a repeat.

Voters wait in a line during the June primary that stretched around the Metropolitan Library.
Voters wait in a line during the June primary that stretched around the Metropolitan Library.

Credit: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Each county is responsible for making sure its polling places are adequately staffed, Fuchs said. Multiple times a week, the state has been sending county election offices the names of poll worker recruits. County officials then decide who to hire.

According to the Secretary of State’s website, poll workers must be at least 16 years old and need to be able to read, write and speak English. They must also be a resident or employee of the county where they want to serve and can not be immediately related to an elected official.

DeKalb kick-started its hiring due to the Sept. 29 special election for John Lewis' seat, the county’s election office said in an emailed statement. The civil rights icon represented Georgia’s Congressional District 5, which has sections in Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties.

Officials for Fulton County, which recently received an extra $14.5 million to shore up election issues, did not provide the number of poll workers hired so far, but said 2,900 poll workers will be placed at 245 different polling sites on Nov 3.

Regina Waller, a senior public information officer for Fulton County, said poll worker training has started for the Special Election for the Georgia Congressional Fifth District race on Sept. 29, although hiring is still underway for both elections.

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Many poll workers who were trained for the special election will carry over that training to the general election, DeKalb’s statement said. Depending on their role, workers are training to review equipment, set up polls and handle provisional, emergency and regular ballots.

Other counties, such as Cobb, won’t begin training poll workers until later in September.

Cobb County Elections & Voter Registration Director Janine Eveler said the county is in the process of hiring poll workers from the list it received from the state. Cobb is seeking nearly 1,550 workers.

Eveler said she’s not concerned about the county’s ability to bring on enough workers to handle the crowds on Election Day. She said she expects the department will hire and train about 1,800 people “because there are always drop-outs and replacements throughout the process.”

“We are getting good response to our outreach,” she said.

ExploreElection depends on hiring many new poll workers across Georgia

Gwinnett County is still working to meet minimum poll worker numbers for both early voting which begins Oct. 12, and Election Day, elections director Kristi Royston said.

In anticipation of high voter turnout for the presidential election, it’s important to have as many polling places available as possible, Royston said.

Gwinnett County poll manager Don Heaton (left) speaks with assistant poll manager Bob Portnoy during Georgia primary run-off elections at Norcross High School in Norcross on Aug. 11.. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Gwinnett County poll manager Don Heaton (left) speaks with assistant poll manager Bob Portnoy during Georgia primary run-off elections at Norcross High School in Norcross on Aug. 11.. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

The Gwinnett County Board of Elections and Voter Registration has approved an early voting timeline with three consecutive weeks of early voting at eight locations, but it must be approved by county commissioners.

The elections office is also working to reach their self-designated minimum staffing level for Nov. 3. Gwinnett has 156 polling places, and it’s not easy to get enough poll workers even when there isn’t a pandemic, Royston said.

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“COVID and the situations we’re facing have shed light on the difficulty of recruiting polling officials,” Royston said. “It’s always challenging for a county of this size to recruit poll officials. We now are facing some COVID concerns and health concerns.”

One attempt to assuage those concerns is requiring Gwinnett poll workers to wear face masks or face shields — they were only encouraged in the primary and runoff — and supplying an abundance of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and disposable gloves.

Fulton’s Waller said poll workers in that county will also be required to wear face coverings and will be socially distanced on voting day.

Due to the higher risk of contracting COVID-19 for older populations, Gwinnett’s elections office is shifting its recruitment focus to high school and college students, who are at less risk of getting seriously ill from the virus and who may have more time on their hands because of virtual learning, Royston said.

Gwinnett has also been able to recruit “a few hundred” poll workers through information provided to them by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

In Georgia, poll workers generally earn $60 to $140 per day, including over 13 hours of work on Election Day. Some counties in metro area pay more, including Gwinnett, which pays $75 to $300 per day.

To sign up to become a poll worker, go to securevotega.com/pollworkerrecruitment.

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.