On the verge of the Tuesday special primary, Ohio counties say they have enough poll workers to handle what is expected to be a very low-turnout election.
But the definition of “enough” has changed as Election Day approaches. On July 26, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office sent out a tally of every county’s required minimum, how many poll workers they wanted, and how many had actually signed up.
The state’s 88 counties needed a minimum of 24,522 poll workers, and 72 had reached that, for a statewide total of 28,356, the report said. But only 42 counties had met the recommended number, 115% of the minimum. The only Miami Valley county to do so was Butler, LaRose’s report said.
In most cases the Secretary of State’s reported totals for poll workers don’t quite match. That’s because LaRose’s count is based on reports from county boards of election last Friday, July 22, but the number of people actually available is constantly changing, according to election officials.
“They’re not wrong, we’re not wrong,” said Rob Nichols, spokesperson for LaRose.
The state set sets each county’s target for poll worker recruitment, including a reserve; but counties are steadily reducing their needed minimums by consolidating polling locations and predicting low turnout, he said.
On the ballot will be partisan primaries for state House and Senate sets, though many of those are uncontested; seats on the Democratic and Republican parties’ state central committees; and in some places local issues such as tax levies.
The primary for state House, Senate, and party central committees was to have been May 3, but moved to Aug. 2 due to the 10-month legal wrangle over district maps. A few counties already have local-option votes scheduled for Aug. 2, but holding an extra statewide vote required massive effort and expense. One of the biggest problems was guaranteeing enough poll workers. Both major parties must be represented at each precinct, even if voter turnout is minimal.
On Wednesday, LaRose’s office announced that in requests for absentee ballots Democrats had outpaced Republicans 47,829 to 35,059. That disparity held in absentee ballots returned thus far – 39,413 Democratic to 27,805 Republican – and early in-person votes with 14,514 Democratic and 12,065 Republican.
Early in-person voting ends at 2 p.m. Monday, and mail-in absentee ballots must be postmarked by Monday to be counted.
County election officials said they’re also preparing for the Nov. 8 general election, and are still recruiting poll workers for that. They’ll need more for November since turnout is expected to be heavier, with all statewide offices on the ballot.
Election officials urge people to volunteer as poll workers for November and in future elections. Poll workers are paid for their time. People can sign up by calling their county board of elections office, going to county elections websites, or at VoteOhio.gov/DefendDemocracy.
The state’s July 22 total says Montgomery County had 757 poll workers ready, but by Wednesday that had climbed to 800, according to Sarah Greathouse, deputy director, Montgomery County Board of Elections.
The statewide goal for poll worker recruiting is 115% of the legal minimum needed, to account for last-minute absences, Greathouse said. Those call-offs always happen in the last 10 days before an election, she said.
As of Wednesday, Montgomery County had seen fewer than 700 in-person early votes, and mailed out fewer than 3,000 absentee ballots, Greathouse said.
That’s low for a county-wide election, probably because the only contested races are party central committee seats, she said.
State law lets boards of elections cut the number of poll workers based on expected turnout – but only in some elections, Greathouse said.
“This is not an option in general elections where turnout is generally much higher,” she said.
All Montgomery County polling locations serve multiple precincts, so the board was able to reduce the number of workers needed in each location, Greathouse said.
“We have used this August poll worker recruitment season to do outreach for November and have so far seen positive results,” Greathouse said.
Greathouse praised the staffers who recruit poll workers. Their jobs require reaching to perhaps 1,000 people to find 800 that are available to work, she said.
“You just can’t say nice enough things about those people,” Greathouse said.
The state’s numbers did exactly match the totals that the Butler County Board of Elections still had Thursday: a minimum o 609 poll workers, a goal of 700, and an actual total of 867 trained and ready to work, according to Deputy Director Eric Corbin.
“We have had about 1,100 people vote early in-person and just over 2,000 vote by mail,” Corbin said. “We expect turnout to be less than 10%.”
There are only two issues on Butler County ballots, Corbin said.
Warren County needed a minimum of 450 poll workers, according to the state; but that number has been cut due to “super low turnout,” said Brian Sleeth, Warren County Board of Elections director and president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials.
Of the county’s 170,000 registered voters, only 2,600 had voted by mid-week, whether in person or by mail, he said. That includes votes from nursing homes.
“I think Election Day, overall we’ll probably be at 8 to 10 percent (turnout),” Sleeth said.
The county does still need a few more Democratic poll workers, but otherwise has met its goals, he said.
“We recruit all the way up to the day before the electron sometimes,” Sleeth said.
Greene County needed a minimum of 300 poll workers and only 265 signed up, the state said July 22. But four days later the Greene County Board of Elections voted to cut that minimum to 230, meaning the county had enough.
Director Alisha Lampert and Deputy Director Llyn McCoy predicted that Greene County will only have about 12% voter turnout for the Aug. 2 primary, with only one local issue on the ballot in Xenia.
Miami County needed 180 poll workers: 174 to work specific precincts and six “rovers” to go where they’re needed, said Laura Bruns, Miami County Board of Elections director. They actually have 200, but would like to have 214, she said.
The state’s announced numbers for poll workers came from a survey every county board of elections sent on the previous Friday, Bruns said.
“The number changes daily with additions and call-offs,” she said. “Thankfully, we haven’t had many call-offs. We did reduce the number of workers from the usual four per precinct due to the expected low turnout.”
It will take at least 350 people to work the Nov. 8 election in Miami County, Bruns said. Most of the county’s poll workers are very dedicated, returning election after election; but her office is still recruiting for the fall, she said.
In Darke County the May 3 primary included a sheriff’s race, which drew a lot of attention, but the Aug. 2 vote has so far drawn low numbers even for an off-year primary, said Paul Schlecty, Darke County Board of Elections director. He’s hoping things pick up in the last few days of early voting.
“We do not have anything special on the ballot, it’s only the state candidates,” he said.
Previously Darke county had a minimum of 172 poll workers: four each in 43 precincts, Schlecty said. But low early turnout convinced the county board of elections to cut back to a minimum of 142, with a goal of 163, by eliminating some workers in precincts that shared polling locations, he said.
On July 22, Darke County had 159 workers signed up, according to the state. Schlecty said they could still use some more Democratic workers.
“Recruiting poll workers is a complex thing, because certain poll workers will only work at certain polling locations, and some have conflicts of interest like having relatives on the ballot,” he said. “It’s always a balancing act.”
Schlecty said Darke County has many poll workers who serve every election – but, not expecting one in August, had scheduled vacations. They’re likely to be back for the November general election, he said.
The state’s figures on July 22 said Preble County needed a minimum of 107 poll workers, had a goal of 123, and had 122 actually signed up. By mid-week that was up to 123 confirmed, said Lisa Boggs, Preble County Board of Elections director.
“We’re very fortunate. We have a number of people who always commit to working polls,” she said. “We’re just holding our breath in case we have people saying ‘I’ve been exposed to COVID, I’m waiting for my test.’”
Early in-person turnout so far is low, Boggs said.
“I would say we’re down from where we usually are, but then this is sort of a one-off election,” Boggs said.
There is some local confusion about what’s on the ballot, but in Preble County only state House, Senate, and party central committee seats will be voted on, she said.
Here are the contested primary elections in the Miami Valley on the Aug. 2 ballot:
House District 46 (Northeastern Butler County, including Monroe and Middletown)
- Thomas Hall (Incumbent)
- Matt King
House District 47 (Central and northwest Butler County including Hamilton and Oxford
- Sara Carruthers (Incumbent)
- Cody Harper
House District 55 (Eastern and northern Warren County, including Springboro)
- Thomas Goodwin
- Scott Lipps (Incumbent)
House District 56 (Central and southwest Warren County, including Lebanon and Mason)
- Joy Bennett
- Sam Cao
- Kathy Grossmann
- Adam Mathews
House District 70 (Western Greene County, including Beavercreek)
- Brian Lampton (Incumbent)
- Katherine Shutte
House District 85 (Champaign, Shelby and part of Logan counties)
- Lilli Johnson Vitale
- Tim Barhorst
- Rochiel Foulk
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