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West Virginia elections officials preparing for May 12 primary

PARKERSBURG — The chief elections officer in Wood County is preparing in case replacement poll workers are needed because of COVID-19 no-shows.

County Clerk Mark Rhodes said several poll workers have said they will work election day if absolutely needed.

“But they don’t want to,” he said.

The primary election in West Virginia is May 12.

Letters have been sent to about 400 poll workers, of which about 140 have been returned, asking them about working on election day, Rhodes said as he was enroute to the post office where absentee ballot applications were being mailed.

Maybe enough people will vote absentee to ease the amount of traffic at the polls on election day, he said.

Rhodes said he will meet with the county commission to discuss the possibility of consolidating polling places because of a lack of poll workers.

On Friday, Secretary of State Mac Warner announced the I Want You campaign to recruit poll workers for the primary election.

The segment of society most susceptible to the virus, senior citizens and those with underlying medical conditions, often work the polls, Warner said. The aim of the campaign is to recruit poll workers less susceptible to the virus, he said.

“I’m asking West Virginians who are willing and able to step up and help out in our democratic process,” Warner said in a press release. “We’re doing our best to offer opportunities to vote, and everyone is working under difficult circumstances. Recruiting more poll workers will help counties fill vacancies left by veteran poll workers who may not be able to work the polls in this primary. This is a great civic opportunity for our younger generation to help administer and protect our democracy. They can help make sure every eligible voter has the chance to vote.”

Polls require five poll workers. The 55 counties in West Virginia have more than 1,700 polling places.

The campaign uses the famous Uncle Sam recruiting portrait. Warner said the campaign will use social media and will get help from schools and teachers, businesses, labor, trade and other organizations to recruit poll workers,

Health officials and the Centers for Disease Control have been unable to determine when the epidemic will peak. While most segments of society, businesses and schools have been shut down to prevent the spread of the virus, election day for the primary in West Virginia remains on May 12.

Everyone is eligible to vote by absentee, during early voting from April 29 to May 9 or on election day May 12.

“If poll workers are concerned for their health, we certainly understand and appreciate that concern. With the recent stay-at-home order by the governor, we’ve developed a strategy to recruit less susceptible people to step up and help fill poll worker vacancies,” Warner said.

Rhodes said he hopes to have a better idea of how many more poll workers may be needed prior to the training seminar, for which all poll workers are paid to attend.

The Secretary of State also has created an online form to become a pollworker at wvsos.gov under “Become a Poll Worker.”

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.

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