LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – For the first time ever, Los Angeles County will be calling on county employees as emergency workers to staff polling centers in the November election.

Investigative reporter David Goldstein says the county needs more than 16,000 people to work polling centers in November. This year they had to invoke emergency powers because the usual stream of mostly senior citizen volunteers has dried up because of the pandemic.

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Larry Dilg had volunteered as a poll worker helping people cast their votes for the last eight years. But not this year with COVID.

“I have fears of being infected. I’m 72 years old,” he said.

And he’s not alone. Election officials across the country say they’re having trouble finding volunteers because of the pandemic. Traditionally many who volunteer are senior citizens like Dilg. He’s seen crowds in the past that he feels now with COVID are unsafe.

Because of a possible shortage of volunteers, for the first ever the county is turning to the disaster service workers program. All public employees in California are considered disaster service workers, which means they can be called in to work in emergencies.

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Shahidah Carter works for the county’s child support services and says she’s ready to work the election if called as a disaster service worker.

“As a county employee we also understand we are disaster service workers and the reality is that this election is important and we are understaffed,” Carter said.

With the program the registrar’s office claims they’ll have enough volunteers. They’ve also come up with this safe presidential election plan which includes placing machines at least six feet apart and sanitizing them after each use.

Dr. Marc Kerner believes it would keep people safe: “The risk is no higher than going to the grocery store. “

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The registrar’s office says they’ve also had challenges finding voting centers because of COVID, but they claim they’ll have 800 in place by election day – as well as enough volunteers to staff them.