Florida dealing with dearth of poll workers as primary held amid coronavirus pandemic

Florida dealing with dearth of poll workers as primary held amid coronavirus pandemic

Fears over the coronavirus outbreak have caused many poll workers in Florida to stay home Tuesday as voters cast their ballots in the state’s presidential primary.

From Palm Beach to Orlando, election officials in the Sunshine State are dealing with a dearth of poll workers tied to concerns over the pandemic.

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“We have seen some cancellations, most of them are folks who have been advised by their doctor not to work,” Chris Anderson, Seminole County elections supervisor, told Fox 35 Orlando. “We probably lost 80, so to speak, right now.”

While Ohio is postponing its primary election as officials try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Florida – along with Illinois and Arizona – have decided to go ahead with the vote. Before Tuesday, 2 million Floridians had cast early ballots and election officials were recommending that anyone with symptoms of the virus – or in a particularly susceptible group – should have someone pick up a vote-by-mail ballot.

“We are confident voters can safely and securely cast a ballot,” Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee said Monday during a press conference.

There are currently 192 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Florida with five deaths, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

Florida is home to more than 4.3 million people over the age of 65, which is about 20 percent of the state’s population, which – along with people with underlying health conditions – is a group at risk of developing serious complications if they contract the coronavirus.

During the last presidential election, 56 percent of poll workers in the country were 61 years old or older, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and Florida officials say workers are dropping out in huge numbers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that nursing homes are at the highest risk of being affected by the virus – given the age of residents and the close quarters in which people live – but nursing homes are also popular locations for polling sites.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called the use of nursing homes as polling sites “problematic” during a news conference last week and suggested that if a polling site is at one of these facilities, only residents should be able to vote there. DeSantis on Tuesday also ordered a mandatory closure of the state’s bars and nightclubs for 30 days to deal with the spread of the virus.

Election officials across the state are rerouting voters slated to cast a ballot at a nursing home to the next closest polling place. Other locations had to open late as there were not enough workers to man the polls.

“We were left with very few decisions here to be able to keep all the precincts open and polling locations open as we are required by law to do,” Sarasota County Elections Supervisor Ron Turner told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “I apologize to the public but we have lost a number of poll workers.”

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