False Allegations of Election Fraud, COVID, and Heavy Workloads Contribute to Pennsylvania Election Worker Shortage
(Harrisburg) –– Pennsylvania faces a shortage of people willing to staff polling stations on election day. One of the main reasons is the false allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Election officials and state lawyers said many counties were struggling to attract people for the tens of thousands of paid positions, despite two elections slated to take place before next summer.
“It’s high on their list of concerns and it’s not unique to Pennsylvania,” Assistant Secretary of State for Elections and Committees Jonathan Marks told WITF’s Smart Talk on Monday.
Marks said workers gave a variety of reasons for quitting or retiring from typically semi-annual jobs some have held for decades.
Many are older people and more likely to contract COVID-19. When the pandemic raged last fall and vaccines were not available, Marks explained that some stayed away from polling stations to avoid infection.
In addition to the pandemic, the state changes to the electoral code in 2019 that allowed anyone to request a mail-in ballot meant election officials were dealing with millions of them in a matter of days last fall. This was only the second time that counties have dealt with this kind of volume.
“We were also trying to run secure polling stations and deal with the added attention resulting from a highly controversial presidential election,” said Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association.
But as efforts to delegitimize the 2020 Pennsylvania election results have intensified since last fall, some workers have told county administrators they have been harassed and intimidated by people falsely claiming the results were fraudulent.
Marks said these demands are particularly problematic as workers in individual electoral districts have had to pay the price.
“When people talk about [fraud claims], they really question the integrity of their friends and neighbors, ”he said. “Who wants to do that [work] whether this is how the elections are going to be administered in the future? “
The New York Times reports States across the country face a similar problem. At least a third of election workers surveyed by the Brennan Center for Justice in June said they did not feel safe in their electoral work. To illustrate its point, the group singled out Republican Philadelphia County Commissioner Al Schmidt, who suffered “anti-Semitic attacks” and had to hire a 24-hour security guard in the months following the election. from 2020.
“Al Schmidt’s is not an exceptional case,” the pollsters wrote in a memo explaining their findings. “Long accustomed to staying in the background, [workers] have now found themselves seen as bad guys, scapegoats for election results some politicians and voters disliked. “
Texas and Florida, the Times reports, are among those who have approved new rules protecting election officials from harassment. In order to protect them from this type of treatment, a legal defense network specifically for election officials was launched earlier this month.
In Pennsylvania, Lisa Schaefer and other election campaigners have told lawmakers for months that the state can attract more election workers by easing their workload. One of the best ways to do this, she told Smart Talk, is to give counties more time to prepare mail-in ballots to be counted.
Currently, workers cannot begin the pre-marketing process until the morning of election day. Schafer said some counties wanted to start this process as early as three weeks before that date.
“[They] can make better use of their resources and not have to hold two elections on polling day, ”she said.
“We highlight these people because they are truly the heroes of our democracy: the people who administer elections on the ground,” Marks said.
State lawmakers are now considering changes to the electoral code aimed at improving conditions for election officials, including salary increases and additional training. These ideas were part of a larger election bill introduced by Representative Seth Grove (R-York). This vetoed Governor Tom Wolf in June, because it also contained more stringent voter identification requirements.
Wolf later said he was open to new demands, provided that they are included in a bill facilitating the vote. This has led Grove (R-York) to reintroduce his bill and two state senators to produce their own version of the changes.
As negotiations on this legislation take place, election officials continue to face challenges. One such worker who identified herself as Kathleen of Palmyra called Smart Talk Monday to express her frustrations with those who continue to allege that she and others were responsible for calling the election last fall.
“It’s insulting to the team,” she told host Scott Lamar. “We work so hard to make sure people can exercise this right and then these invalid comments are made.”
As part of WITF’s commitment to stand up for the facts, and because the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol was an attempt to overthrow representative democracy in America, we mark elected officials’ ties to the insurrection. Learn more about this commitment.
Representative Grove is among dozens of lawmakers who signed a letter asking Congress to oppose the Pennsylvania Electoral College vote, despite no evidence that would call those results into question.
This supported the electoral fraud lie, which led to the attack on Capitol Hill.