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New tool identifies potential bottlenecks for in-person voting ahead of November

  • Lucy Perkins/WESA

The pandemic has created plenty of questions about voting logistics ahead of the November election, but a voting rights group is using data to take some of the guesswork out of election day.

It’s always been hard to find people to work the polls; the pandemic has made it even harder, since most poll workers are older and more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Having fewer workers slows down the in-person voting process, which can create additional risk for everyone involved if voters are waiting in long lines to cast their ballots.

“Ideally there’s enough poll workers for every county in every state,” said Carnegie Mellon University professor Rayid Ghani. “That’s not going to happen. So where do we focus? Because it is going to matter.”

To answer that question, Ghani and the nonprofit group Voter Protection Corps compiled data on the number of polling places and voter turnout to predict where bottlenecks are likely to occur. They focused on key states like Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania. Ghani said Westmoreland, Washington and Fayette counties will need the most immediate help.

“If you look at Fayette, you have lots of voters per location, so locations are a bottleneck,” he said. “If you compare that to Westmoreland County, in terms of other things they’re much higher, [like] percentage of in-person voters.”

According to the data, Allegheny County is not at immediate risk of a poll worker shortage, but should still prioritize recruitment, which the county is already doing. Ghani hopes organizers will use the data to target poll worker recruitment efforts.

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