Election officials across the country are facing similar staffing crises long in the making, now accelerated by the pandemic: in-person access to the ballot box rests on the vulnerable shoulders of a cohort of steadfast, but elderly, election workers at high risk of illness or death should they contract COVID-19.
More than half the country’s poll workers in 2016 were 61 or older, according to data tracked by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In some states, that number is far higher, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of EAC data found.
In Maine, for example, nearly two in three poll workers are in that age group. In Montana, Oklahoma and Alabama, the number of elderly poll workers is as high or higher.
Election officials nationwide are now often explicitly recruiting younger poll workers ahead of remaining 2020 primaries and November’s general election.
Nonetheless, the acute shortage of election workers is prompting reductions in the number of in-person polling sites for upcoming primaries, fueling worries that some voters may face significant obstacles to casting their ballots