Coronavirus fears create shortage of Alaska election workers

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska A shortage of election workers because of coronavirus concerns has Alaska officials searching for solutions and warning the state could close some polling sites.

The shortage is particularly severe in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, The Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday.

Alaska communities have up to three forthcoming elections. The statewide primary is set for Aug. 18, while municipal elections across much of the state, excluding Anchorage, will be Oct. 6. The national general election will be held Nov. 3.

Two months before the statewide primary, none of the state’s House districts have enough election workers.

None of the 12 polling places in the state House districts covering Chugiak and Eagle River had enlisted a full staff of workers by Friday, the Alaska Division of Elections statistics said.

The state needs between 2,500 and 3,000 temporary workers during the primary and during the Nov. 3 general election, elections division Director Gail Fenumiai said.

The state has asked nonprofit organizations for assistance through the Adopt-A-Precinct program. Organizations can recruit polling staff and the state will pay the organization rather than the volunteers.

Seven polling stations have been covered by the program so far.

Older Alaskans are considered particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and they began isolating themselves when the pandemic began, officials said.

Anchorage City Clerk Barbara Jones told the Anchorage Assembly that 95% of the municipality’s regular election workers declined to help in this year’s local elections.

Five of the city’s six in-person voting locations were closed. Even though most ballots were cast by mail, the city needed regular municipal employees to process votes because of the lack of workers, Jones said.

Ember Jackinsky is among those who says she won’t work again as an Anchorage poll worker.

“The majority of us are either high-risk because of advanced years or because of underlying medical conditions,” Jackinsky said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.