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At-risk election workers preparing to continue employment amid pandemic

(AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

PHOENIX — Election officials across the country are facing staffing crises long in the making that have been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

In-person ballot casting is now on the vulnerable shoulders of dedicated, elderly election workers who are at high risk of illness or death if they contract COVID-19.

Arizona’s Secretary of State Office confirmed most of the state’s poll workers are in their 60s and 70s.

“They have tirelessly performed these duties year after year, election after election. But their age and health conditions put them at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19,” according to its website. “We can help protect them and honor their service by passing the torch to Arizonans who are at lower risk.”

The conversation over at-risk poll workers started back in March during Arizona’s Presidential Preference Election.

“This was a challenging issue and we had poll workers drop out so we had to scramble to recruit back up,” Secretary of State Katie Hobbs told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday.

She prefaced they cannot deny anyone to work at elections sites due to their age during the coronavirus pandemic because poll workers are hired employees, so that could be considered age discrimination.

However, this hasn’t been a new concern of Hobbs. If she had her way, the decision as to who to place at risk wouldn’t be much of an issue as Hobbs has advocated for an all-mail election this year.

The Secretary of State’s Office has worked closely with county election officials to ensure that those who serve as poll workers are protected and every eligible voter can vote safely.

Maricopa County elections officials confirmed to KTAR News the department is 91% staffed for the August primary election. However, they are looking to recruit more workers.

“There are a variety of jobs that are available for Maricopa County residents,” Communications Officer with the Maricopa County Elections Department, Megan Gilbertson added. “We will continue to recruit for those positions after the primary and through up until the general election is over in November.”

To protect the health of poll workers and in-person voters, state and county election officials are taking extra precautions to maximize the safety of voting locations, including:

Ensuring each voting location has an adequate supply of disinfecting and sanitation supplies, including disinfecting wipes or spray, hand sanitizer, and/or hand-washing facilities

Providing personal protective equipment for poll workers, including face masks, face shields, and rubber gloves

Implementing public health recommendations for polling places from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including physical distancing protocols and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces

Providing public health guidance to voters and poll workers on how to ensure a safe voting experience.

Election officials have encouraged voters to vote by mail or vote early to help reduce crowd size on Election Day.

For more information on how to get a ballot-by-mail, visit the website.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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