‘We’ve been called idiots’ — The stress of working the 2020 election in NJ
Election officials in New Jersey thought that nothing could be more stressful than running an election eight days after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the state in 2012.
It turns out that was a breeze, at least compared to their workload over the past several weeks, for 12 to 15 hours each day. And the chaos may not stop for another several days.
Boards of Elections across New Jersey have been flooded daily by phone calls from concerned or confused residents, ballots coming in from county drop boxes, and in-person visits from constituents looking to drop off their vote face-to-face, and perhaps throw in their thoughts about the primarily-by-mail voting approach in 2020.
"We've been called idiots, we've been called every name in the book," said Beth Thompson, administrator of the Hunterdon County Board of Elections. "They just think that we're kind of the sounding board because we're here, and maybe it gives them a little relief."
The county board expects to be able to scan between 66,000 and 70,000 votes on Election Day. With extra staff on hand, including additional members who arrive later in the day, the office is prepping all ballots received so Election Day runs as smoothly as possible. Thompson said the office has had a steady stream of in-person vote drop-offs since the third week of September. Core staff is in the building from 7-7:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. most days.
"We're all very, very tired. Our families miss us very much," Thompson said.
At the same time, Thompson said, plans need to be made for those looking to show up at a polling place on Nov. 3.
"We are trying very hard to calculate, based on the amount of returns that we're getting every day, what we think our turnout is going to be at the poll," she said.
Between 5,000 and 9,000 ballots are received each day by the Union County Board of Elections. Ahead of the Oct. 13 deadline, the county registered more than 20,000 new voters.
In a typical election year, the county board would bring on about 10 seasonal employees. On any given day this year, between 30 and 50 seasonal workers are helping prepare the office to begin counting votes on Friday, according to Administrator Nicole DiRado.
"We don't get the bulk of our work done until 4:00 when we stop answering the phones," DiRado said.
In certain counties, such as Somerset, dialing the phone and getting a live person isn't possible due to the workload leading up to Election Day. Instead, residents are asked to submit a question online and wait a day for a response.
Normal business hours for the Union County board are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but plenty of people have been working 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. for a month and a half, DiRado said.
"At 6:00, I have two crews on the road who start picking up our secure drop boxes," DiRado said.
Seasonal employees have been approved to work through the end of the year in Union County. Boards still need to accept votes for several days after Nov. 3, depending on their postmark. After the Nov. 10 deadline for mail-in votes, staff get to work on provisional ballots filled out at the polls.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org