Coronavirus ‘top of mind’ for poll workers, voting safety measures in place

Protecting the polls from COVID-19

YORK, S.C. (WBTV) - South Carolina’s health agency announced over 200 new COVID-19 cases in the state four days before people start casting their absentee ballots in person.

Poll workers cannot turn anyone away for not wearing a mask or having COVID-19 symptoms.

That is because voter rights are one of the most protected rights, but poll workers are taking extra precautions to make sure everyone is safe.

WBTV checked with all four of the South Carolina counties in our area, which have similar safety practices.

“Totally unprecedented," says York County elections spokesperson Beth Covington. "We’ve never had to experience this before we’ve never had to prepare for something like this.”

Masks are encouraged, but you will not be turned away for not wearing one.

Long lines are expected but every polling place will have six feet markers to stand on. Chesterfield and York counties’ voters will have to stand outside if there are too many people in the building.

You will be given a Q-tip to make voting selections. Poll workers will be wearing masks and sanitizing surfaces every hour.

Just as poll workers prepare for long lines and stacks of absentee ballots, the same prep went into keeping you safe.

Everything voters saw in the June primaries they will see again this November. The crowds might be bigger, but a local election spokesperson says everyone has had much more time to prepare.

“We don’t want COVID to be the reason someone doesn’t come out to vote," says Covington. “We had really good results for this in June primaries and we expect the same in November even with a larger crowd."

New tech will help limit your exposure to poll workers. Covington says usually poll workers have to sit with the voter while they bring up the specific ballot. This election, voters will be able to bring up their own ballot.

The technology prints out a ballot with the voter’s ballot style printed at the top. Once put in the ballot marker device, it will pull up the correct ballot. York County Voter Registration spokesperson Beth Covington says it will cut face-to-face time significantly.

“While we’re there always at least this will limit the contact between voters and workers," explains Covington.

Less contact does not mean less training though. Poll workers have a separate COVID-19 training and state test they have to pass before getting to work. They have to get an 80 on the test to pass.

If a person fails, Covington says he or she gets another chance. However, they do not know which answers were wrong.

It is an effort to make sure no safety measure goes unchecked.

“We were sincerely hoping November would be a different story and it’s not so we’re prepared for that so we will go in and go through CDC guidelines and do everything we can to keep everyone in our facility safe," she says.

This will start Monday with absentee in person voting. The only big difference for Election Day is there will not be as many capacities. Most absentee locations cannot hold as many people as polling places can.

Even after hearing all those guidelines, anyone who does not want to risk it can still vote absentee by mail. Covington recommends that for older people and those with pre-existing conditions.

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