Many of Georgia’s largest county election offices face a serious shortage of poll workers as they head into Election Day for Tuesday’s primary.

“Hundreds of poll workers are needed,” Vasu Abhiraman, senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Georgia, told Atlanta Civic Circle.  Abhiraman is leading the civil liberties group’s drive to recruit and train poll workers for Tuesday’s primary, including a last-minute information session on Monday.

The need for poll workers has spiked, he explained, as voters return to the polls to cast their votes in person after two years of pandemic isolation. “In 2020, everyone was staying at home,” Abhiraman said. “If they were going out to vote, they would often be voting early or by mail.”

This time around, he said, many Georgians, now vaccinated and boosted, are likely to show up on Election Day.

He said the poll worker shortage is particularly acute in DeKalb County, Gwinnett County and other high-population counties. Without more poll workers, voters may experience long waits and, in worst-case scenarios, leave without voting.

Abhiraman attributed the shortages to a combination of burnout, fears of a new COVID-19 wave, and “last-minute dropouts.” County election offices also have seen a lot of older, more experienced workers leave in the last couple of years in the fallout from the 2020 elections.

County elections offices recruit their own poll workers, but the ACLU of Georgia “is trying to recruit people to fill gaps,” he said. “We’re trying to encourage counties to hire even more poll workers and then doing whatever we can to support them.”

“It can be intimidating to be a first-time poll worker or even a first-time [precinct]  manager, but what we try to do is to demystify it,” he explained.

Gwinnett election officials did not respond to queries from Atlanta Civic Circle by publication time.

Keisha Smith, DeKalb County executive director of Voter Registration and Elections, told Atlanta Civic Circle the county has “sufficient staffing levels for Election Day” but is still “navigating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic”  which has kept the county from being able to reach “ideal staffing levels.”

“We are adjusting staffing in real-time to ensure the best voter experience at all of our polling locations in DeKalb,” Smith said.

A spokesperson for Fulton County, which is Georgia’s highest-population county, told Atlanta Civic Circle that it has enough poll workers, as well as a backup plan to deploy county workers if some poll workers are a no-show.

“We have been able to complete our [poll worker] recruitment,” Fulton spokesperson Jessica Corbitt said. “People are completing their training or have completed their training this week. We’re very excited about Tuesday.”

Meanwhile, Abhiraman said his focus until the Nov. 8 general election is recruiting more poll workers in Georgia, a critical swing state in the upcoming midterms.

“We’re watching intently to see how voting patterns are going to be on this election day,” he said, to see if in-person turnout tracks with the turnout for the 2020 election cycle before the pandemic. 

Election officials are reporting record turnout for early voting, which ends today. As of midday Friday, 710,137 Georgians had voted early, which is nearly three times the early voter turnout for the same period in the 2018 midterms, according to georgiavotes.com.

Poll workers statewide already faced challenges during early voting, grappling with glitches in the state’s main voter-verification system and ballot mixups.

Interested in being a poll worker?

  • If you’re a DeKalb County resident, you can still sign up to be a poll worker for the in-person primary on May 23. But act fast: The training is Saturday, May 21.
  • You can also sign up to be an ACLU of Georgia poll worker for subsequent elections at acluga.org/pollworker
  • Check your county election office’s website for more information on serving as a poll worker.

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