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Ohio calls on lawyers to work polls, get education credits

The Ohio Supreme Court issued an order that will give attorneys required continuing education credits for serving as precinct elections officials on Nov. 3 when the state expects a poll worker shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
The Ohio Supreme Court issued an order that will give attorneys required continuing education credits for serving as precinct elections officials on Nov. 3 when the state expects a poll worker shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The Ohio Supreme Court issued a first-of-its-kind order that will give attorneys required continuing education credits for serving as precinct elections officials on Nov. 3 when the state expects a poll worker shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The temporary rule change allows the state’s more than 49,000 licensed attorneys to receive continuing legal education — or CLE — credits for helping Ohioans vote on Election Day.

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Approved unanimously last week, the action addresses the “urgent, but narrow, issue of a significant Precinct Election Official (“PEO”) deficiency in Ohio due to COVID-19,” reads the Supreme Court order.

“We hope to tap that resource,” said Jan Kelly, Montgomery County’s elections director. “We hope that the attorneys and legal eagles of the community will step up to the plate and help us out during this pandemic ... We need poll workers desperately.”

The Ohio Secretary of State’s Elections Division and the Ohio Association of Elections Officials petitioned the court for the change beginning last year.

“Attorneys are ideally suited to serve our state as poll workers,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. “Their attention to detail and ability to quickly grasp the nuances of the responsibility make them ideal candidates to be on the front lines of our democratic process.”

Ohio’s 88 county Boards of Elections have historically relied on over 35,000 poll workers to operate polling locations. With more than 65% of Ohio poll workers age 61 or older, the office fears many in the at-risk group will opt out of working the polls this November, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

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“The importance of recruiting enough quality poll workers to accomplish this goal cannot be understated,” LaRose said in a news release.

The Ohio Supreme Court plan is believed to be the first in the nation to ask attorneys to work polls in return for mandatory education credits, according to a court news release.

“Ohio attorneys have a long record of public service,” said Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. “I can think of no greater opportunity for lawyers in Ohio to give back to our state than to get involved on Election Day and help fill the urgent need for poll workers.”

Lawyers in Ohio are required to earn 24 continuing legal education credits every two years by attending live and online programs accredited by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Commission on Continuing Legal Education. Attorneys and judges who complete poll worker training and staff the polls may be granted up to four hours of credit, according to the Supreme Court action.

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Earlier this month, LaRose issued a directive to all county election boards to send by the end of this week a survey to poll workers who served in the past three years as well to those who showed an interest in being a poll worker to find out if they remain willing to serve in November.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections has sent out the survey and is in the process of compiling responses, said Kelly, who anticipates the need for about 1,700 poll workers.

Kelly said the office urges voters to cast ballots early by mail when absentee voting begins in October. Voting absentee will help those in line on Election Day socially distance and relieve the stress on poll workers, she said.

“To lighten this load and to make it good for everybody, we’re really encouraging people to vote by mail and get it in early,” she said. “We’re trying to flatten the curve — the same way they did with the virus — flatten the curve with voting.”

The Secretary of State’s office will be sending absentee ballot applications to all 7.8 million registered voters around Labor Day. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5 and early in-person voting and absentee voting by mail will begin Oct. 6.

Poll volunteers in Ohio begin work at 5:30 a.m. The polls open at 6:30 and close at 7:30 p.m., when administrative closing procedures begin. Lawyers and others interested in serving as poll workers can complete a form at VoteOhio.gov/DefendDemocracy.