Metrowest Daily News: Training program aims to plug poll worker gap

BOSTON — A new program aims to train students and others to serve as poll workers this election season, responding to the stresses COVID-19 places on local election officials and volunteers.

Launched Monday by the Safe Elections Network, the Massachusetts Student Poll Worker Corps will either send trained participants directly to election officials or place them in a “reserve corps” to be directed to a community identified as needing poll workers in the days leading up to the election.

Kristina Mensik, of Common Cause Massachusetts, said the pandemic makes it hard for municipal election officials to train new staff in-person, and many regular poll workers fall into an age demographic “that makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19.”

Clerks and other elected officials also face an added workload this year because of expanded mail-in voting.

“We’ve heard from election officials that folks flooding their inbox with offers to help is great, but what would be more helpful is a system where they know that the substitute poll workers are a good fit for the job, and that they’ll show up,” Mensik said in a statement. “We designed this training program with that in mind.”

Organizers said in a press release that the program is based on research, including interviews with municipal clerks, to determine their needs, concerns and recommendations. Though targeted at students, it is open to anyone.

State Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, who co-chairs the Election Laws Committee, said the effort will “help to strengthen civic engagement and make our elections run more smoothly.”

A July law expanded mail-in and early voting opportunities for the Sept. 1 primary and Nov. 3 general election in light of the pandemic and social distancing measures, and also gave local officials more flexibility in appointing poll workers if they face a shortage.