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A poll of poll workers

A bit of good news, and a bit of a warning, here.

Harris County poll workers seem willing to participate in this fall’s presidential election, even amid the pandemic, but voters are more reluctant, according to results from a recent Rice University survey.

Poll workers here — regardless of party affiliation — were game to show up if conditions are safe enough. However, registered voters across the political spectrum were more reluctant about in-person voting even with safeguards in place, according to a Rice University study conducted between March 27 and May 4.

“What was surprising to us was how many poll workers were committed to working the polls with the caveat that they wanted protective gear, Plexiglass screens and Q-tips (to cast votes on machines). They wanted to do in-person voting with protection,” said Bob Stein, a political science professor who ran the survey funded by Rice’s COVID-19 Initiative with colleagues from the university’s psychology, anthropology and computer science departments.


Nearly 80 percent of poll workers said they were likely to help out in November at sites that observed social distancing guidelines and provided personal protective equipment. Poll staffers were were less enthusiastic about outdoor or drive-thru voting scenarios, according to the Rice findings. Many election workers said they relied on the seasonal income.

Voters’ responses lined up more predictably based on their age, party and gender. Democrats, women and people over 65 opted for potential remote voting — drive-thru, drop-off, mail-in or online options. Republicans, men and voters under under 65 were more willing to cast ballots in person.

More than 30 percent of Democrats said were unlikely to vote in person with nothing but social distancing to protect them, versus 9 percent of Republicans. A fourth of women voters were reluctant to vote in person, compared to 14 percent of men. Among voters over 65, who are at greater risk if exposed to the virus, 27 percent said they probably wouldn’t vote even with protections in place; whereas, 18 percent of voters under 65 said they were averse to voting under those circumstances.

You can see a copy of the poll report here. As the story notes, the Harris County Clerk is already gearing up for more mail ballots and other protective measures for the July and November elections. The challenge may be a little greater now with the forthcoming resignation of County Clerk Diane Trautman, but that shouldn’t complicate things too much. Given the concerns about poll workers, most of whom are over 60, I’m pleasantly surprised to see their willingness to work this election. That says a lot both about their dedication, and their faith that the county will do a good job of making their job as safe as possible.

The partisan split in willingness to vote in person is a bit alarming, but let’s keep three things in mind. One is that the last picture everyone has of voting is the fiasco in Wisconsin, which I daresay has people justifiably spooked. I feel reasonably confident that election officials in the state do not want their county to be the poster child for that kind of experience in November, so I have faith there will be plenty done to ameliorate the concerns. I hope that the July primary runoffs will help alleviate some worry as well. Two, that cohort of people who are most reluctant about voting in person are the people who absolutely and without question already have the right to vote by mail, and that’s the voters who are 65 or older. The HCDP has been quite good at getting mail ballots out to their voters in recent elections, and I feel confident they’re up to that task for this year as well. I would also expect there to be a lot of messaging to voters, from the county and from parties and candidates, about voting by mail. And three, we still may get a much broader vote by mail program for the state, in one of the lawsuits that have been filed by the TDP or the one filed by younger voters on federal age discrimination claims. We now know more about where people are for this election. We just need to act on it.

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  1. Bill Daniels says:

    I suspect the (hopefully) tail end of the social distancing movement will create a change in voter behavior, with many more voters availing themselves of the full two weeks of early voting. I usually early vote, and almost always walk in and vote, no wait. This last go-round, I procrastinated and waited until election day, in the evening. The line wasn’t horrible, and moved OK, but I said to myself, “never again, always early vote.” I heard that same sentiment echoed by others in line, and I suspect we will see a new voting paradigm henceforth.

  2. brad b Moore says:

    I suspect the (hopefully) tail end of the social distancing movement will cull the herd a little bit and those folks will not be around to show up with AR-15s and Confederate flags to scream about the tyranny of mail-in voting outside the county clerk’s office.

  3. Darlene McKeever says:

    Good article and poll. I’m a Precinct Judge and have worked almost every election during the last 5 years. I’m 62. Like others polled, I’m willing to work during upcoming elections, if significant protections are in place. I want increased access for voting by mail for ALL voters. It would be better for voters, poll workers and democracy. Also, I would like to see younger people volunteer as voting clerks. Voting by mail is simpler, but voters need more education. Let’s hope the civil cases are settled, so that there can be a clear message delivered to voters.

  4. brad says:


    If you are a non-partisan/unaffiliated election precinct judge, thanks for your services/efforts. If partisan, disregard.

    I agree with your comments regarding mailed ballots for all voters. Cheaper for taxpayers, increases turnout and not susceptible to hacking/technological interference. See details on the 5 US states that effectively and efficiently use it now.

    Unfortunately, we are already seeing GOP efforts to actively fight mail-in ballot use.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    @Brad Moore,

    LOL! Wishful thinking. Haven’t you heard? The virus is racist, it kills more blacks and Mexicans than whites, so me and my beer swilling, pickup driving, Confederate flag waving, racist hillbillies will all be alive and well on voting day, voting and intimidating others, but your voters will be largely dead or sick, because Trump’s incompetence is literally killing millions….millions of blacks and Mexicans.

    You must have missed Sly and Lina’s for-blacks-only town hall on the subject.

  6. Manny says:

    Bill, use the real term for people like you, “White Racist Trash”.

    You, the Republicans, Trump have blood on your hands, over 80,000 Americans dead because of the stupidity and incompetence of you people.

    It is “Mourning in America”, Bill.

  7. C.L. says:

    Leave it to the resident ass hat to turn a discussion about voting into a “I’m a redneck hillbilly workin’ in cahoots with C19 to kill off the enemies of the whites”.

    At least he’s got a consistent position. Never misses an opportunity.