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Chesterfield Says Poll Worker Recruitment Efforts a Success

Registrar's office
Absentee in-person voting has been going on at the main registrar's office for a few weeks. Starting on Monday, October 19, four new satellite locations will open. To help staff those as well as the 75 polling stations across the county, officials sought to hire 1,200 poll workers--almost double the number for the last presidential election. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

In Chesterfield County, efforts to recruit poll workers have been underway for months. 

Due to the pandemic, many people who usually work the polls have opted out because their age puts them in a high-risk category of potentially catching Covid-19.

But what does it take to be on the front lines in a pandemic on November 3rd? North Chesterfield County parents Dana and Shakir Turton say it’s a juggling act.

Both telework at home right now. Dana hunkers down at the kitchen table, while Shakir sequesters himself upstairs in a loft. Both are at the ready to help their daughter, Sloane, log onto virtual kindergarten. 

“So we do a lot of popping up, popping up and down as we need to,” Dana says. 

family
Dana Turton with her daughter Sloane and her husband Shakir (Photo courtesy of Dana Turton)

Dana, who's 43, works as an administrative assistant at VCU Medical School. She says a unique mix of factors made it possible for her to sign up to be a poll worker on election day. Her job is giving employees the day off, her daughter won’t have school, and Shakir will be working from home.

“So being able to say yes, I can do a 5 a.m. arrival time without having to organize childcare has certainly helped,” Dana says.

Dana says her desire to help is driven by past experiences at her polling site. She says the people working have always been organized and efficient, especially when it comes to handling her ballot.

“I’ve always noticed that they’re really are good about saying ‘Okay, let's be sure to put it in your folder, so nobody else is seeing it,’” Dana says.

Plus, she says, the workers have always been friendly to Sloane.

“I've had a little one with me, I think every time I've voted since she was born, and they've always been very patient, given her sticker. So that's been important,” she says.

Hearing about a potential shortfall of workers was another motivating factor, Dana says.

“I had heard that, particularly with COVID and people who are maybe 65 and older, which I know a lot of people tend to be who do the polls, that they were potentially facing a shortage,” she says.

In 2016, roughly 675 people worked the polls for the presidential election in Chesterfield County. That's according to a survey conducted this year by the Election Data and Science Lab at MIT and the organization Democracy Works.

For this presidential election, Chesterfield County practically doubled that number to 1200 workers. 

Fearing a shortfall, the county launched an aggressive campaign to be staffed for early in-person and election day voting, which began earlier this year. During the June primaries, Registrar Constance Hardgrove said, “We’ve been recruiting, recruiting, recruiting, building up to the fall election this year.”   

Hardgrove says their goal of hiring 1,200 workers was met. And In fact, they had over 2,500 people apply. 

She credits their success to several factors. On top of a daily pay increase for poll workers, from $150 to $250, they expanded their advertising to include social media, radio ads and electronic billboards, and partnered with national retailers like Old Navy and Foot Locker.

Election officials across the country are entering into similar partnerships, says Stephanie Young of When We All Vote, the nonprofit organization started in part by former First Lady Michelle Obama. 

“We have over 200 national and corporate partners and media partners as well,” Young says.

Young said a partnership with the group Power to Polls to meet a goal of over 250,000 poll workers has exceeded their expectations.

“So far, Power to the Polls recruited more than 600,000 [workers],” Young says.

When We All Vote does not track where their recruits end up working, so it’s unclear if their efforts are behind the surge in Chesterfield County poll workers.

To keep poll workers safe, Hardgove says Chesterfield is using federal CARES Act funding to buy protective equipment, including sneeze guards, gloves, masks and cleaning supplies.

In addition, Hargove says, “We are practicing social distancing as much as possible. Following the CDC guidelines, wiping down the voting booths and equipment throughout the day.” 

And Hardgrove says during the June primaries, poll workers were really good about keeping her informed if they or their family members had tested positive. She’s not too worried for this election cycle.

“We’re asking that they stay healthy,” Hardgove says. “And if they’ve been in contact with anybody or around anybody who may have Covid, to just not work.” 

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One of the signs that greets library visitors at the North Courthouse Library--which will be one of four satellite voting places starting on October 19. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

To help train the 1,200 newly hired poll workers and to keep them safe, the county moved training online. Each worker will watch a platform of training modules and be tested afterward. Some of the videos include how to safely put on and remove gloves.

Dana says she’s not too worried about working the polls. She says she and her family are regular mask wearers, so it should be easy to wear one all day. Plus, she says she’ll bring a few of her favorite masks--those featuring pictures of sled dogs.

“I felt like that's something I could do, because it sounds like the county is making sure that there will be distanced spaces and masks and everything like that,” she says.

Dana says she’s ready for November 3 -- and so is her daughter, Sloane.

“I know my little one is very excited to come visit to see mama in action. So to the extent that she can safely, she definitely wants to come to voting day as she likes to call it,” Dana says.

Starting on Monday, October 19, the county is opening four satellite locations, including one at North Courthouse Library, where Dana will be stationed on election day.