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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/11/20

Recruiting Poll Workers Is Key to Thwart Trump's Attacks on Our Voting Systems

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Pres. Trump says mail-in ballots will rig the election
Pres. Trump says mail-in ballots will rig the election
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In 2000, Ion Sancho had a front-row seat to the partisan mayhem and legal posturing surrounding Florida's presidential recount. The Florida Supreme Court asked Sancho, then supervisor of elections in Florida's capital, to be its technical adviser -- second in charge -- of overseeing the recount, which the U.S. Supreme Court abruptly halted in its Bush v. Gore decision, elevating George W. Bush to the presidency.

As the U.S. heads toward 2020's general election amid a pandemic and President Trump's continued attacks on voting from home, Sancho has been reviewing trends from the resumed primaries and sees both how Trump and the GOP are positioning the party for another court-decided electoral outcome -- and the single remedy that would frustrate those plans.

"The plan that Trump is doing is to denigrate mail ballot voting and force people to show up at the polls on Election Day -- and overwhelm the polls so it looks like massive chaos and fraud," said Sancho, who recalled the "Brooks Brothers riot" by GOP operatives that disrupted Miami's recount. "But it's all dependent on overwhelming the polls on Election Day; having people wait in line for five, six, seven hours, and then adding to the cacophony of 'vote fraud, vote fraud.' If it's done smoothly on Election Day, that whole strategy really melts away."

Since 2020's primaries and runoffs resumed in April, there has been an historic shift to voting from home with mail-in ballots in many states. The pandemic has also prompted a poll worker exodus and steep reductions in in-person voting sites, especially in swing states. Many voters have waited for hours to cast a ballot, especially in urban centers and communities of color, disenfranchising unknown numbers of voters.

"The reason we are not getting people working the polls is that poll workers, traditionally, are in the center of the target range for COVID-19: 65-to-75-year-old individuals," said Sancho, who added that the younger people now demonstrating against racist policing should not just be urged to register and vote this fall, but should also enlist as poll workers -- especially in cities.

"These young people who are demonstrating in the streets, understanding for the first time that institutional racism is America, these people, if they work the polls, could save the entire elections process," said Sancho, who ran Leon County's elections for 28 years. "What if all of the African American students at the historically Black colleges [and universities (HBCUs)]I know Atlanta has a couple -- what if they staffed the polls in Fulton County? Here in Tallahassee, what if FAMU [Florida A&M University] ensured that the African American polls are completely covered on November 3? And you get paid for it."

"If you do it, you frustrate the plan that Trump has set up to call that there was massive fraud and chaos and try to send this to the courts -- to the SCOTUS [Supreme Court of the United States] where they will try to pull off the same thing they did in 2000 on a 5-to-4 vote."

Staffing America's Polls

Sancho, a law school graduate, is thinking more widely about 2020's general election than many election administrators, who tend to see their jobs as implementing the rules issued by the state. But he is not the only election veteran thinking about staffing the polls this fall. There has been talk in political circles in recent months about the need to recruit a new cadre of poll workers. In recent weeks, a handful of these efforts surfaced.

Washington's Fair Elections Center released an online poll worker sign-up tool that it hopes will help facilitate a national recruitment campaign. On June 30, a mix of businesses, corporate alliances, entertainment networks and nonprofits announced the "Power the Polls" coalition, whose goal is to recruit "250,000 new workers" using the WorkElections.com portal.

Other efforts include those by the Massachusetts-based Voter Protection Corps, a new advocacy group, working with We The Action, a nonprofit that enlists lawyers in civic projects and has been recruiting poll workers for Texas's July 14 primary runoff.

"Despite the challenges in recruiting poll workers presented by COVID, we've been pleasantly surprised by the interest from Texas lawyers serving as poll workers," said Paydon Miller, We The Action spokesman. "Dozens of lawyers have signed up to volunteer, and many others have indicated interest in helping in November."

"I do want to emphasize the big takeaway from this effort: states need to be planning now," he said. "Our experience is that lawyers stand prepared to help how they can, but if states and localities aren't thinking this through now, we may face the same challenges we've seen during the primaries: long lines, unclear voting laws, and voters turned away."

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Steven Rosenfeld  covers democracy issues for AlterNet. He is a longtime print and broadcast journalist and has reported for National Public Radio, Monitor Radio, Marketplace,  TomPaine.com  and many newspapers. (more...)
 
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