County Workers Having COVID Leads To Questions About Election Safety

Ocean County Board of Election workers provide in person assistance as they receive ballots coming in from the public at a center in a county building that previously housed the Mana Grill in Toms River. Ballots were dropped off there and at 17 Ocean County drop boxes prior to Election Day on November 3. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  TOMS RIVER – More than a dozen county workers tested positive for COVID-19, and officials said that the safety of the employees have been the utmost priority. reported that a person working for the Board of Elections tested positive. More than 250 county employees sought testing. From that, 16 of them tested positive. However, there is not necessarily a direct link from these 16 to the initial person who tested positive.

  Ocean County Administrator Carl Block told The Patch that the 16 people were from different departments, and not all of them were counting votes. Those who tested positive had to quarantine.

  During a normal election, a voter would go up to a poll worker, take a ticket, and hand the ticket to another poll worker. Then, they would touch the voting booth.

  This time, polls were only open for those with disabilities and for people to drop off ballots that were already filled out. But scores of people had to come together to count the mail-in votes.

  It’s hard to say whether one way is safer than another, Block said, responding to questions from JerseyShoreOnline.

  Most poll workers are seniors, he said.

  Medical professionals have put seniors into a higher risk category for serious repercussions if they catch the coronavirus.

  The difference is that with the mail-in election, a few dozen people had to be in one place. There were “40-50-60 extra people a night,” Block said. There were regular employees from the Department of Elections, other county departments to help with the workload, and the National Guard for security.

  In certain situations, liability comes into play. For example, if an employer willingly exposes their workers to unsafe working conditions, they can be sued.

  One of the reasons that senior centers have not reopened is because the state is not indemnifying the homeowners associations or holding them harmless. This means that someone who potentially caught COVID-19 at a clubhouse could sue the homeowners association.

  Similarly, the state did not offer such protections to counties for holding their elections by mail, Block said. However, if it became an issue, there are other legal protections the county can use.