Elections supervisor imposes vaccine mandate for all poll workers in Broward special congressional election

Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott has told poll workers that they must be vaccinated for COVID-19 if they wish to work during the upcoming special primary and general elections to fill a congressional vacancy.

Scott said poll workers come can come into close contact with hundreds of voters, some of whom will be unmasked and unvaccinated. He said his directive, which he vetted with the office’s legal counsel, is designed to enhance public safety.

“Our poll workers have to engage in close quarters, personal contact with potentially hundreds of voters. So it’s not just for the safety of the public, but for the safety of the individuals who are poll workers as well. We want to keep everybody safe,” Scott said in a telephone interview. “Considering the circumstances and looking at the statistics as to how this Delta variant is spreading, it is important that we do everything we can to keep the public and to keep our employees safe.”

Scott informed the 1,079 poll workers needed for the Nov. 2 primary and Jan. 11 special election in a letter dated Aug. 3. He said his office has received fewer than 10 negative responses, with some people saying they didn’t think they needed the vaccine or believed there are safety issues.

Unlike many employer vaccine mandates, Scott said there isn’t a provision for poll workers to avoid providing proof they’ve been vaccinated. For people working at the polls, Scott said, “it would be very difficult to make accommodations” because there are no poll worker jobs that don’t involve interacting with many members of the public.

Scott also has imposed a vaccine requirement for full-time Supervisor of Elections Office workers. The memo outlining that policy, which went into effect Aug. 2, states that all employees had to provide evidence that they’re fully vaccinated or show a negative, weekly COVID-19 PCR test. Employees also must practice social distancing and wear masks.

The vacancy in the 20th Congressional District, created by the April 6 death of longtime Congressman Alcee Hastings, includes part of Palm Beach County. Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link said Friday she and her staff are in the midst of deciding on COVID protocols for the primary and general election and she has not made a decision about a vaccine mandate.

“We have not gotten to that point yet,” Link said. “Right now, we’re doing masks [which are] required all the time, whether you’re vaccinated or not. We’re talking to the county and trying to figure out what the county trends are before we make that decision.”

She said the Palm Beach County part of the district would probably require about 2,000 poll workers.

All employees are required to wear masks as are any visitors to Supervisor of Elections Office locations, she said, including the first day of poll worker training, which involves instruction for instructors, on Saturday.

Vaccine mandates have become a highly polarized issue. Despite scientific evidence of their effectiveness at preventing COVID-19 in vaccinated people, and at preventing severe illness in people who are vaccinated but still get sick, some argue that they don’t trust the vaccines or don’t want to be told what to do.

Richard DeNapoli, the Republican state committeeman for Broward County, provided a copy of Scott’s letter to a poll worker. DeNapoli said the person did not want to be vaccinated and wanted to remain anonymous.

Scott confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

When DeNapoli posted a copy of the picture on his Facebook page Thursday night, some commentators called the policy “bull,” adding another word for emphasis. Another suggested it was “one way to make sure no Republicans are working at the polls.” One called for a protest and others declared it was “unconstitutional” or amounted to discrimination against the unvaccinated.

Other commentators on the Republican’s page defended Scott’s policy. “If you want the job, get the vaccine,” one wrote.

Tom Powers, chairman of the Broward Republican Party, said he has “heard a number of complaints” about the policy.

As a practical matter, Powers said, it’s unlikely to impose a burden on many people. So many people who normally serve as election poll workers are older, and that is exactly the group that has by far the highest rate of vaccination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website shows that 80.4% of Broward residents 65 and older are fully vaccinated compared to 61.3% of people 12 and older who are eligible for vaccination.

Powers declined to firmly state whether he thinks Scott’s policy is the right thing to do.

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“I would want to see that everybody has a chance to apply for a [poll worker] job and get a job,” Powers said. Getting vaccinated, Powers said, “is an individual decision and government shouldn’t be forcing their opinions on every citizen.”

Barbara Sharief, a Broward County commissioner and one of the candidates in the Democratic congressional primary, said Scott’s move is the right one. Sharief, who owns a home health care company, is a nurse practitioner with a master’s degree in nursing and a doctorate in nursing practice.

“Right now, I think it’s a good idea,” Sharief said. “Because the poll workers are going to come into contact with so many people going out to vote, probably the most prudent thing to do is to require them to be vaccinated in case they are exposed.”

“Florida is leading the nation in COVID cases right now. Broward County is leading the state of Florida,” he said. “As a public official, I think it’s important for us to be aware of what’s going on and to be able to make adjustments as to the needs of the community, and at this time, this is what is needed for the community.”

Excerpts from Joe Scott letter to poll workers

“Based on recently reported scientific date and updated CDC guidelines, it has been determined that requiring all poll workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and its variants is necessary to minimize risk to coworkers, members of the public and to the proper conduct of the election itself. Additionally, we have learned that individuals who are not vaccinated are far more likely to become sick from COVID-19 and transmit it to others. While vaccination does not prevent individuals from becoming infected, recent data indicate that vaccinated individuals who are infected have both a reduced likelihood of serious illness and may also, for at least some variants, have reduced likelihood of spreading the virus to others.

“To that end, and in the spirit of protecting you and our voters, all poll workers assigned to the November 2, 2021, special primary election (whether working an early voting site or on Election Day) must show proof of full vaccination in order to work during the U.S. House District 20 special primary and special general elections. Please bring evidence of your inoculation against COVID-19 (two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) with you to your upcoming training class. The SOE will not retain copies of your vaccination records, but if proof of vaccination is not provided, you will not be permitted to attend the training or work during this election.

“This policy was not arrived at lightly, but rather is being implemented to ensure we are doing everything we can to provide a safe and healthy working environment for all poll workers and reduce risk of transmission to or from the voters who will be coming to our early voting sites and Election Day precincts. We also believe this policy is essential to address COVID-related risk to our ability to conduct the election.”

Source: Aug. 3, 2021, letter from Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott to poll workers for the Nov. 2 special congressional primary and Jan. 11 special general election.

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