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CT Seeks Poll Workers After Other States Have Struggled To Staff Polling Sites During Pandemic

CT Seeks Poll Workers After Other States Have Struggled To Staff Polling Sites During Pandemic

Hartford Courant, July 8, 2020

By Christopher Keating

Connecticut election officials are preparing for a potential shortage of poll workers in the August presidential primary and November general election as the many elderly retirees who normally work those jobs could decide to remain home due to being at higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus.

“One of the major effects of COVID-19 we have seen in other states is the struggle to staff polling places and local election offices,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Monday as she announced a new statewide recruitment drive for poll workers. “We are working with our local election officials to make sure that they have the resources they need for the elections in August and November, including adequate staffing. No Connecticut voter will have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.”

The state has nearly 800 different polling places in 169 cities and towns, and they need a minimum of three workers at each site, officials said. On the day of the Aug. 11 presidential primaries, Democrats will also have 11 primaries for legislative races in Hartford, West Hartford, Bloomfield, Wethersfield, New Britain, Bridgeport and other communities. Republicans will have eight primaries, including three congressional races in the 1st District in Greater Hartford, the 4th District in Fairfield County and the 2nd District in eastern Connecticut.

Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for Merrill, said the state wants to be prepared for “people at the last minute who say they are unable” to work at the polls. The problem has arisen in other states, and the state wants to be prepared.

“This is not a Connecticut phenomenon,” he said.

Voters interested in working at the polls can visit for more information. 

Prepping for distancing back to top

Prompted by the pandemic, local officials are already preparing for social distancing at the polls, along with the need for face masks for both voters and workers.

“The polling places are no different than any other gathering indoors — so people should wear masks,” Rosenberg said Monday.

The primary is sometimes a low-turnout event that could be used as a dry run in advance of the higher-turnout presidential contest in November.“ The general election this year could be off the charts versus the primaries in the dog days of summer,” said Kevin Maloney, the chief spokesman for the 169-member Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

He said CCM will be monitoring the situation as the primary approaches.

“The towns have not presented us with lots of calls on elderly workers,‘' Maloney said. “Perhaps as we get closer to the primaries and elections, that problem may surface.”

With federal money approved by Congress, Merrill’s office will have funding for towns for extra workers who are needed directly at the polling places, as well as those helping in offices operated by town clerks and registrars of voters.

Merrill has already mailed out absentee ballot applications and postage-paid return envelopes to all voters eligible to vote in the primaries, which were both paid for with federal money. 

The documents arrived in mailboxes unsolicited and said, “You are receiving this application for an absentee ballot because, due to COVID-19, the Secretary of the State has sent an application to every eligible voter in the state.”

Based on an executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont, the pandemic “may be used as a valid reason for requesting a ballot,” the application states. Under the reasons for voting by absentee, COVID-19 is listed with a statement in bold print that says, “All voters are able to check this box, pursuant to Executive Order 7QQ.‘'

Even though Trump and Biden are their parties’ presumptive nominees, both candidates are still competing in primaries in Connecticut.

The Democratic ballot includes Biden, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. On the Republican side, Trump is battling against Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, a 65-year-old automobile dealer and longtime candidate from California who has run in the past for U.S. House and U.S. Senate before running for president in both 2016 and this year.

On both the Republican and Democratic primary ballots, party members also can vote for “uncommitted.”