Local election poll workers stepping up amid pandemic uncertainty

Voting this November may look a little different than in years past. (File Photo by Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

Poll workers’ demographics for the upcoming election are shaping up to look a little different due to COVID-19.

This year has already been out of the ordinary, Riley County Clerk Rich Vargo said in an email, with approximately 90 regular volunteers choosing to not assist this year because of COVID-19 concerns. As a result, Riley County had to recruit a large number of new election board workers to fill these vacancies.

“We are seeing new volunteers and some younger volunteers,” Vargo said.

This younger volunteer turnout seems to be a trend, not only in Riley County, but across the surrounding counties as well.

“This is the first year there were 50 and below [volunteers] this time — before it was mostly older ones that retired,” Genille Gaskins, a four-year veteran or election volunteering in Geary County, said.

Some volunteers are stepping up out of concern for the more vulnerable age groups, who often fill the positions.

“I mean part of the reason I volunteered is because of coronavirus, I’d rather I be there than someone older,” Adam Miner, a 26-year-old volunteering for the first time in Johnson County, said.

However, volunteer demographics are not the only thing that will look different this upcoming election season.

Polls are setting up Plexi glass for protection, requiring masks and providing hand sanitizer at the voting stations.

Contact precautions have also been implemented so voters will be the only ones who touch their papers. Volunteers will disinfect screens in use between each voter. All of these changes aim to increase voter safety, as well as the safety of volunteers and workers.

“We are lucky to live in such a great community in which it was possible to find individuals willing to assist us during these times,” Vargo said.