TULSA, Okla. — The Tulsa County Election Board is facing an historic shortage in the number of poll workers they have ready to man the 2022 general election in November.
The election board estimates anywhere between 350 to 400 workers are needed in order to keep all precincts open and have a fully staffed elections like voters expect, but two factors have come into play that have scared off what traditionally were the friendly elderly faces that greeted voters or the civic volunteers who simply loved to be a part of the democratic process: COVID and a nasty political climate centered around the terms “stolen election” and “election fraud”.
“We’ve literally had people screaming at our workers or treating them very badly because they’re still upset about the 2020 election, or they come in with intentions other than just voting,” Tulsa County Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman said. “On top of that, the older ones who have higher risks of complications from COVID, don’t want to sit there anymore and risk getting an infection they may never recover from.”
Freeman said for the $100 paycheck the state gives poll workers for working a 12-14 hour day, many feel the job isn’t worth the hassle, especially with inflation.
“We used to have people who lived out of their cars, and they would sign up simply to get gas money,” she said. “We don’t even see those people anymore.”
So Freeman and her team decided to take another path when it came to filling vacancies. She called the leaders of numerous municipal governments in Tulsa County and asked for help using city employees from off-duty cops to trash collectors to even the receptionist at city hall. The proposal is that municipal workers can be offered a paid day off to man the polls while also getting the $100 dollars in poll worker pay as a bonus.
“When I asked our city leaders to come and listen to our needs, I was expecting a few at the most,” Freeman said. “We had an entire room full of people ready to help.”
So far, the City of Sand Springs has signed on to the proposal. Others have said they are very interested, but they need to figure out who can take the paid day off to work the polls while also making sure city services are available on Election Day.
“We don’t need political activists at the polls,” Freeman said. “We need civic minded people working the polls who understand they are there to assist voters and protect the process. Voters shouldn’t be talking politics at the polls, and neither should our workers. This isn’t the place for politics. This is simply how democracy works no matter what you believe in.”
There have been concerns about municipal employees working in city elections that will happen in November, but Freeman said the law has procedures in place that protect the integrity of the vote.
“If you are related to someone that is on the ballot, you cannot by law oversee any part of that election, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a paid day off, and I put you to work in the next town over that is voting on different things on the same day,” she said.
She also said there are strict state laws about where voting machines and ballots can go, and who can access them that will be abided by whether the poll worker is a municipal employee or not.
Freeman said she believes the poll worker shortage will end, but it could take years.
“We have to get out of this political climate, and that’s going to take a long time,” Freeman said. “I don’t understand sometimes. These people are grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, your neighbors, you go to church with them, they’re your friends, and then when you show up to the polls, some of you are just nasty with them and accusing them of things they have no part in that in some cases has even taken place in other parts of the country and not here. We need to get over this. We need to get through this, and it’s going to be a while before we do.”
The Oklahoma State Election Board stands by the integrity of the 2020 elections in Oklahoma. Oklahoma does not use the Dominion voting machines that were at the center of the controversy surrounding claims the 2020 elections were fraudulent and has lead to numerous lawsuits that are still playing out in court, including lawsuits against public officials who Dominion says publicly smeared their company to gain favor with then President Donald Trump as he contested the 2020 election results. In a recent interview with FOX23, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) said in Oklahoma the election showed no signs of fraud, said the 2020 election was not stolen, and “Joe Biden is President of the United States.”
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