NewsPinellas County


300 Pinellas County poll workers quit ahead of Tuesday's presidential primary

On Monday alone over 100 quit citing coronavirus concerns
Posted at 9:41 PM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 09:02:04-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Nearly 300 poll workers have called it quits before Tuesday's primary. It marks a significant portion of their workforce, about 25%.

Just hours before polls open, the county is scrambling to make sure locations are staffed.

Just Monday alone, over 100 polls workers told the Pinellas County Supervisor Elections they are not showing up to the polls, citing coronavirus concerns. The curveball is forcing the county to get creative. They are doing emergency training are giving other county government employees a crash course on how to be a poll worker.

While states like Georgia and Louisiana have postponed their presidential primaries, Florida is moving forward.

"We're not going to panic." Governor Ron DeSantis said during a press conference Monday. “These things can be done in ways where you are not going to have large crowds."

The Gov. DeSantis said most votes have already been cast and believes postponing the election would signal that "we are paralyzed."

In Pinellas County, there's a staffing crisis. Linda Rowe, a 20-year veteran poll worker, is coming out of retirement to help.

“Lord no. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life," said Rowe.

According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, many of the 300 workers they lost were seasoned.

“That’s really bad news because people are going to be going to polling locations with poll workers who have never worked an election," said Dustin Chase, the agency's communication's director.

Jennifer Peters is one of those people. She is one of 100 Pinellas County government employees stepping in to fill the void. Peters has never worked an election. ABC Action News asked if she felt overwhelmed by the whirlwind of last-second training.

“A little bit yeah, it’s a five-hour class to learn everything so I’m hoping I can do everything I need to," she said.

Chase says the spooked poll workers cite their age and new recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as to why they are quitting. Meanwhile, all polling locations will be stocked with hand sanitizer. Chase says workers will clean up to six times an hour.

“I carry my hand sanitizer with me," said Rowe, "We’ll just have to use all the precautions we can and get through it but I’m not concerned.”

Over 130,000 Pinellas residents have already cast their ballot through the mail or early voting. That could help but chase warns voters that because of the lack of experienced workers and with 15 polling locations consolidated tomorrow could be rough and confusing.

“They need to be prepared for potential lines are the polling locations to have everything they need to be ready to vote," he said.

ABC Action News reached out to other counties to see how prepared they are for Election Day.

Manatee County reports between 30-40 poll workers have backed out. They've consolidated a total of 10 precincts mostly due to a shortage of workers. They closed three to four based on them not wanting to conduct voting.

Citrus County says some of their poll workers are unable to work on Tuesday, but did not give an exact number. The county maintains it is staffed well enough that it shouldn't be a problem.

Polk County reports 100 poll workers have quit calling the process a "challenging endeavor" and "still very fluid." The county has 13 polling location changes. All of the precincts will be open with limited staff.

Hillsborough County did not release the number of poll workers who have quit because of coronavirus concerns. The supervisor of elections, Craig Latimer, says he is keeping a close eye on staffing. He says his office has trained more than 50 additional staff from the county to work the polls.

Hernando County has seen workers drop out but did not specify how many. The supervisor of elections does not anticipate long lines at the polls.