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Poll workers prepare for another pandemic Election Day

vote here picture in front of library
Director of Elections Constance Hargrove for Chesterfield County says she has seen a steady stream of people since early voting started Sept. 17. She adds that there are some changes this election versus the one last November. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Dana Turton’s daughter, Sloane, has one thing on her mind after a day of elementary school in North Chesterfield — snacks — and getting some down time by playing on her tablet on her family’s porch swing.

Turton and her husband both work from home. Dana says the after school ritual is a pattern she’s used to. And the ritual of being a poll worker is another pattern she wants to continue.

Just as she was planning on signing up for her second stint as a poll worker for this election she got a phone call. 

“And it was our chief officer calling me to do it. I recognized his voice and said, ‘Yep, I'll see you at 5 a.m. that Tuesday morning,’” Turton says.

Last November, working the polls was considered being on the front lines of the pandemic. Vaccinations were not available yet on that Election Day, and Turton says she only saw a few voters without masks throughout the entire day.

“Because I have a child under 12 at home, I just kind of stood as far back as I could and made sure to kind of just leave space,” Turton says.

Turton, who’s fully vaccinated, says she’ll continue wearing a mask this Election Day. 

Dana Turton
Poll worker for the second time, Dana Turton. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

At the Chesterfield County registrar's office — which doubles as a polling station — Director of Elections Constance Hargrove says she has seen a steady stream of people since early voting started Sept. 17. 

As of Monday, more than 29,000 people in Chesterfield have already voted in-person. And, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, over 11,000 mail-in ballots have been cast in the county. 

Hargrove says like last year, they’ll be following all CDC pandemic guidelines to protect the health and safety of poll workers and voters alike.

“We have to wear a face mask. And the voters of course are not required to wear a face mask, but we have to wear a face mask,” Hargrove says.

She says workers will continually wipe down surfaces, and voters are asked to physically distance when possible. She adds that unlike last year, all poll worker training will be in person. 

Constance Hargrove
Chesterfield County's General Registrar Constance Hargrove took lessons from the last election and has applied them for this cycle. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

Ballots, Ballots, Ballots

Hargrove, who’s been the general registrar and director of elections for four years, says this year, Chesterfield has a plethora of different ballots poll workers will have to sort through. 

“We’ve got more ballots this time, we have 10 ballot styles, so just be patient with the ballot officers as they try to make sure they give them the correct ballot,” Hargrove says.

Ballot styles are determined by the state, Hargrove says. With all 100 House of Delegates seats up for grabs this year, Chesterfield voters will have a role in selecting seven of those spots. Hargrove says they’ve added two ballot officers at each polling station to help with the extra ballots.

“So just be patient with the ballot officers as they try to make sure they give them the correct ballot,” she says.

Speaking of ballots, Hargrove says the biggest change is with mail-in ballots.

“The witness signature is required for this election,” Hargrove says. “It was waived last year, because we were in a state of emergency. But we're no longer in a state of emergency, so the witness signature is a requirement on all absentee mail ballots.”

The number of poll workers needed for this election are also different, says Hargrove. She says they’ll need about 200 less workers.

“We like to keep around 1200 active officers of elections, even though we may not use them all for each election. It's just nice to have a reserve if we need it,” she says, adding that the number of poll workers needed for this election cycle is 945. 

Dana Turton
Dana's daughter Sloane shows off her handstand skills after school. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

And, those workers will get paid $100 less. Hargrove says since the county isn’t under a state of emergency any longer, and the voter turnout won’t be as high as a presidential election, the incentive pay was dropped.

Dana Turton, who is excited to return even without the incentive pay, says she’s looking forward to greeting new voters with this message: 

“Congratulations, this is great. We're so glad that you're here. Because this is a big deal. And we're glad that you've come out to do this. And you know, it's the first of, I hope, it's the first of many of you doing this,” Turton says.

Despite having to wear a mask again and the possibility of security issues, Turton says there’s no other place she’d rather be than at her polling place on Nov. 2. And like last November, she’ll make sure her daughter Sloane stops by to see mom in action, even if it cuts into her tablet time.

Visit VPM's elections page to follow all of our 2021 elections coverage.

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