Voting in person on August 11? Expect to wear a mask and keep a distance

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Voters who choose to cast in-person ballots during primary elections on Aug. 11 will be greeted by a host of changes meant to limit the spread of COVID-19.

For example, in Wallingford, greeters will be working at each polling location to make sure voters have masks before they check in to vote, explained Joan Ives-Parisi, the town's acting Republican registrar.

“If they don't have one, we will issue them one,” Ives-Parisi said. 

As voters are checking in they will place their driver's licenses, or other picture ID, on a clipboard to hand off to poll checkers — instead of handing them off directly — as a means of reducing hand-to-hand contact, Ives-Parisi explained. 

Voters who have registered as Republican or Democrats will decide on their preferred presidential candidates in a primary that had been pushed back twice from its original date — April 28 — because of public health concerns.

In some races, including for the 30th House District, which includes Southington and Berlin, voters will also decide which candidates appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. 

Most of the protocols in Wallingford and other municipalities have adopted came from guidelines issued by the Secretary of State's office and the Centers for Disease Control. Officials have not closed any polling locations. 

Electrical tape will be used to mark six-foot distances between voters. After each voter casts a ballot, workers will spray and wipe down voting booths. Many polling locations will have separate entrances and exits to ensure social distancing. 

“They will be coming in one door and out the other,” Ives-Parisi said. 

Poll workers will be wearing masks and disposable gloves. Many will be equipped with face shields. Some will wear protective body suits.

In Meriden, all polls will be equipped with hand sanitizer for the voting public and poll workers, said Catherine Sarault, the city's Republican registrar of voters. 

“All of our poll workers will be wearing face shields,” she said. 

“If a voter shows up without a mask, he or she will be offered one,” Sarault said. “No one is going to be turned away for not wearing a mask. But we would hope people will be respectful and wear a mask.”

One notable change in Meriden, the privacy sleeves voters get when they’re handed ballots will not be reused.

“You will either take that home with you or give it to us to throw out,” Sarault said. 

Some election officials are asking voters to bring their own black, ball-point pens to mark up ballots. Pens will be provided. Each polling location in Meriden will have at least 100 pens, Sarault said. 

“The pen after you return it will go into a box. It won't be reused by anybody again, until it's been sanitized. 

In Cheshire, Plexiglas sheets will separate voters and poll workers, explained Tom Smith, the town's Democratic registrar of voters. 

In Wallingford, voters will not only receive ballots in sleeves and pens, but they will also get disposable gloves to wear, while marking up those ballots. 

After marking ballots and feeding them into counting machines, voters will either keep or discard the sleeves. They will place the pens into a box. Staff will disinfect and sanitize the pens should subsequent voters need to use them. 

Officials did not say how much the increased measures would cost, but added that they anticipated federal funding would cover the bulk of the expenses.  

Ives-Parisi has worked as a poll moderator around 30 years. This is her second year working in Wallingford's registrar's office. 

Some jurisdictions have seen a turnover in poll workers. Local election officials said some poll workers and moderators over 60 have opted not work.  

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, many jurisdictions nationwide have struggled to staff polling locations with enough workers in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated that issue. 

“And that’s largely because the people most likely to serve as poll workers — older individuals, often retirees with fewer work or school conflicts than younger folks — are also some of the most at-risk for serious complications from COVID-19,” stated an article last month in The Canvass, a monthly newsletter published by NCSL. It described the combination of an aging election workforce and COVID-19 as having a “snowball effect” on election staffing.

 “This means that fewer people are signing up to be a poll worker, but also that some poll workers are changing their minds, occasionally at the last minute.”

In Cheshire, Smith said the town has lost about about half of its regular election workforce “right out of the gate.”

“Replacing them has been a challenge,” he said. “Thankfully, we have a lot of new younger people who stepped up, so we're looking forward to training and working with them.

“Right now, we have the bare minimum we need to accomplish this.” he added. 

Officials like Smith and Sarault anticipate they will need to recruit more poll workers in November. 

They are working to quickly bring newly certified poll moderators up to speed, training and debriefing them in remote video meetings.

Experienced poll workers who have opted to come back have expressed concern about the protections in place, Ives-Parisi said.

Still, Ives-Parisi was confident there are enough workers to staff the polls on Tuesday. 

“We have certified several new moderators,” she said. 

Local election officials are not sure what kind of turnout to expect.

“The town clerk's office sent out over 3,500 ballots,” Ives-Parisi said. “We have no idea how many we will get back and how many people will show up. It's a very different situation this year.”

In Meriden officials are anticipating an influx of absentee ballots and have hired additional staff to count them, Sarault said. Republican and Democratic primary ballot counters will be tallying those ballots in separate rooms in City Hall.  

“Normally we would have everyone in one room counting stuff, but for social distancing purposes, they have to be in separate rooms,” Sarault said.



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