Minnesota election officials worried about massive shortage of poll workers due to COVID-19

Election officials in Minnesota tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they are concerned about a shortage in poll workers as we head into election season.

Minnesota’s primary is August 11. The general election is November 3.

"Typically the election judges who work in the polling place for us, they tend to be older. They tend to be retired people," said Hennepin County Elections Manager Ginny Gelms. "Of course, that’s a segment of the population that is at higher risk (of COVID-19)."

Gelms said polling sites across Hennepin County still need to fill hundreds of positions for the primary and even more for the presidential election.

"We are having a harder time recruiting this year than we have before," Gelms said. "We’re always kind of sweating a little bit to make sure we have all those positions filled. This year, it is even harder. We have seen lower numbers of people."

In total, Minnesota has about 3,000 polling places and needs about 30,000 election judges to staff them.

"A lot of people wrongly believe it’s a volunteer position. It’s not. It is a paid position," Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said.

Wages vary by city. More experienced election judges, such as Head Judges, usually earn more than entry-level election judges.

"Some places pay as much as $20 an hour, but we’re hearing that this year, because of some federal money made available for this purpose, they’re thinking of upping the money,” Simon said. “Stay tuned for more notices on places that are trying to sweeten the pot a little bit."

To qualify as an election judge in Minnesota, you need to be 16 years of age or older, be able to speak English and complete a two-hour training course, which can be done online.

Under Minnesota law, employers are required to give you time off to serve as a poll worker without a reduction in pay, as long you as you:

  1. Notify your employer in writing at least 20 days in advance of Election Day.
  2. Attach a copy of your schedule and pay rate form to your written notice. The schedule and pay rate will be provided by the jurisdiction that hires you as an election judge.

Wisconsin had an issue with a lack of poll workers during an election in April. Gov. Tony Evers deployed the National Guard to some polling places to make sure people could still vote.

"It would be very unlikely for Minnesota to face a Wisconsin-style collapse," Simon said. "What happened in Wisconsin was a massive collapse of the election judge system at the very last minute. That wouldn’t happen in Minnesota in large part because state law doesn’t allow it. What would likely happen is that polling places would be understaffed. If we don’t get enough election judges, that invariably means some delay. It’s a result that we want to avoid."

Simon said the state hopes to recruit more election judges than it needs this year, knowing some people may drop out last minute due to sickness or concerns over COVID-19.

Election officials are also encouraging everyone to vote by mail to cut down on crowding at the polls. They recommend ordering your ballot now. You can register to vote and order your ballot online.