Local leaders scrambling to make sure polls are staffed for November elections

November's election is nearly three months away, but local leaders are already scrambling to make sure there will be enough people to work the polls.

“I think one of the most important things we do and one of the only voices we have as citizens is through voting,” Blithe Runsdorf said.

Blithe Runsdorf believes in the significance of voting, which is part of the reason she’s now been an elections judge for more than two decades.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and no-excuse absentee balloting, Allegheny County consolidated its polling locations for the June primary from 1,322 sites to 161.

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Legally, they won’t be allowed to do that in November and that will require 6,500 workers to keep them operational.

Plus, with thousands of additional mail-in ballots anticipated, the county will need to hire more people to count them.

This is all happening during a global pandemic, potentially limiting who will feel safe working the polls.

“We often get those poll workers from retirees and those are the same people at the most danger of getting COVID-19 and having the most serious cases,” said University of Pittsburgh Political Science Professor Kris Kanthak.

Kanthak believes getting enough poll workers this year will be a challenge, especially when you consider the number of absentee ballots.

“They’re going to have a greater need for man-power this year than in previous years because it’s a little bit more complex to count absentee ballots,” Kanthak said.

After June’s primary went off without any major issues, Allegheny County leaders started preparing for November.

Mailers were sent out in July to get commitments from previous poll workers and more aggressive recruiting is already underway.

Runsdorf is in charge of voting at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland -- the second largest precinct in Allegheny County.

She already has four commitments from people to work the polls.

“I need seven in my district. That’s what I’m permitted by the county to have and to pay,” Runsdorf said.

Runsdorf said all of her workers will wear masks and gloves to keep everyone safe, which she’s confident will happen.

But with so many variables hanging over the election, Kanthak believes issues are inevitable.

“I do think there’s a possibility Western Pennsylvania could be holding up the whole show. Frankly, I would be surprised if there isn’t someone holding up everything,” Kanthak said.

Kanthak is hopefull younger people who aren’t in a high-risk category will be more willing to work the polls than they have in the past, something that could be essential to make sure the election is as seamless as possible.