Shortage of poll workers a concern for Tracy, Dearborn

The Platte County Board of Elections continues to see a decline in volunteer poll workers and that could mean more change on the horizon, specifically for residents in Tracy, Mo. and Dearborn, Mo. A projected shortage of workers means that polling locations could change for residents in those cities. A similar issue cropped up last year in Edgerton, Mo., moving those voters to a site in Dearborn and leading some to question why that would be allowed.

This time, the board has opted to publicize the shortage in hopes of staying ahead of the issue and keeping voters informed.

“The continued lack of people who are willing to be a poll worker has really put us in a bind, especially in some of the more rural areas of the county, and eventually we won’t be able to staff the poll sites that we currently operate” said Platte County Board of Elections co-director Chris Hershey.

According to Hershey, the March presidential primary and April general municipal election will be staffed in Tracy and Dearborn with a change at this point not viable. However, that will require volunteers from other counties coming in to work at some sites.

After that, the problem will persist without new volunteers.

In an effort to reach out to residents in Tracy and Dearborn, the board of elections sent out a postcard to each household with a registered voter alerting them to the shortage and inviting residents to call for training options and to be included in the list of potential poll workers. That prompted only two replies.

Previously, the board received feedback that residents would have volunteered if informed about a shortage to keep a polling site open. The tepid response to this latest effort leaves reason for concern, according to Hershey.

Currently, there are about 300 people in Platte County who have said they would be willing to work an election and have been trained. Each election takes close to 200 workers.

Travel schedules, health and poll worker location and travel constraints have pushed the number available closer to 160, leaving the board staff scrambling to fill the gaps.

“Ultimately, we can’t force people to work, so maintaining these poll sites is dependent on the willingness of someone else to travel to them,” said Platte County Board of Elections co-director Wendy Flanigan.

In September of 2014, the board announced that voters in Edgerton, Ridgely and Shiloh would have to move sites for the November general election due to a lack of volunteers in those areas. An Edgerton resident then started a petition drive in an attempt to reverse that decision.

Board officials noted at the time that the moves were made due to a Missouri statute requiring a minimum of two Democrats and two Republicans to staff each polling site on election days.

Those polling sites have since reopened, but the problems have simply moved to other areas. The Platte County Board of Elections administers federal, state and local elections as well as voter registration. The office located at 2600 NW Prairie View Rd. in Platte City is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Interested poll workers can also contact Hershey at (816) 858-4400.

“Long term, I think that the way we run elections will need to become more reflective of the way people live in the 21st century,” Hershey said. “Several states have moved to vote by mail or a handful of ‘vote centers’. These solutions take the burden off of community volunteers and place it on a professional staff, which offers several benefits in terms of integrity of the process and, obviously, staffing concerns.

"In the short term, we will keep using the tools that are available to us, which is asking anyone we can think of to work and reducing the number of poll sites when we can’t cover every spot.”