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A democracy in search of first responders

Election officials across the country have been dealing with a staffing crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many volunteers—who are typically older and thus at greater risk from the virus—to withdraw because of safety concerns.

It’s a worrying gap, but attorneys can play a crucial role in filling it. 

Peter Bolac, assistant director of the North Carolina State Bar, has signed up to be an assistant at the polls on Election Day. He’s taken two training sessions that covered the responsibilities and procedures of working at the polls and the safety precautions to protect workers and voters during the pandemic.

“I came away from the sessions extremely confident that we can conduct a safe and efficient election, but the more mail-in and early voters we have, the easier it will be,” Bolac said.

Workers at North Carolina polls will be provided with an N95 mask, a face shield, gloves, and hand sanitizer, Bolac said. Voting booths will be wiped down regularly, and voters are strongly encouraged to wear masks, which will be available for those who need them.

“As far as I could tell, the Board of Elections determined that they cannot prohibit a non-mask wearing voter from voting,” Bolac said. “I’ve also learned that it’s quite a commitment to be a poll worker. You have to set up the poll station on Monday night, and be at the polling place from around 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day without leaving.”

Many states are experiencing a similar shortage of poll workers. Some state bars have authorized CLE credit for poll workers, although North Carolina has not. The American Bar Association announced in August its partnership with the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors to issue a “rally cry” aimed at mobilizing lawyers and law students to assist as poll workers for the 2020 election.

“There’s nothing more important to democracy than voting,” said ABA president Patricia Lee Refo. “We need to keep folks safe by getting folks that do not fall into high risk categories to volunteer to serve.”

To learn more or to sign up, go to https://www.ncsbe.gov/about-elections/get-involved-elections


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