PAOLA — Coronavrius (COVID-19) is not going to prevent the Aug. 4 primary from taking place, but advance voters will be casting their ballots in a new location across the street.
Advance voting for the primary will take place at the former sheriff’s office/jail building next to the Miami County Courthouse on Pearl Street instead of in the Miami County Administration Building.
“One of the biggest changes is we won’t be doing advance voting in our building. We’re trying to mitigate some risk by not having that many people in and out of our building,” County Clerk/Election Officer Janet White said. “We’re going to use the old sheriff’s office across the street.”
Voters will enter through the building’s breezeway where they will be guided to the proper location. The handicap accessible entrance will be located at the door on the south side of the building, which is also being used as one of the exits.
“We’re going to have two exits and one (main) entrance to try to keep everything moving and to try to maintain social distancing,” White said.
The bigger of the two offices at the south end of the building is where voters will check-in, and the smaller office next to it will be used by provisional voters.
All other voters will go cast their ballots in the former offices of the sheriff and undersheriff. Election machines will be set up in both of those offices as well as a reception area in front of the offices. Voters will be directed to the proper location.
Machines will be spaced six feet apart for social distancing and individuals waiting to vote will be asked to stand six feet apart.
Because of space limitations, some of the voting machines will be placed back-to-back. And since those machines will not be six feet apart, White is encouraging married couples or others traveling together to get in line together and vote at the back-to-back machines.
“We’re actually hoping that if you are a married couple you will come through the line as one, and then the next person would be six feet behind you,” White said. “If you come together, we hope to have you vote basically next to one another. It won’t be six feet apart but it will allow us to continue to move that line a little faster.”
Hand sanitizer will be available at the start and end of the voting process, White said. All of the equipment will be wiped down after each voter casts a ballot.
“We’re actually going to do it in front of the next voter so that they feel more secure in that the machine has just been freshly wiped down,” White said.
Masks, gloves and hand sanitizer will be available for poll workers, who will also be behind Plexiglass which is often referred to as a sneeze guard.
Poll workers will be on a rotation so they can go wash their hands periodically to help mitigate risk since they will be handling some items that are touched by voters.
Workers also will be available to help the public start their voting sessions by inserting the paper ballot in the machine before leaving the voter alone to cast their ballot in private.
White anticipates needing a few more poll workers at the advance ballot location than in the past to not only assist voters with the relatively new election equipment but also to direct voters to the proper location and to do frequent sanitizing.
“Because it is so spread out and the rooms are so small, you can’t see from one room to the other in the old sheriff’s building. We’re going to have to have people stationed along the way there to assist voters,” White said. “We want to make it the best experience for the voter that we can possibly make it.”
In-person advance voting will begin July 15, which is also the date advance ballots will be mailed to those who have requested them. By mid-June, the clerk’s office had received about 800 requests for advance ballots.
“We haven’t had that many for a primary for quite some time,” White said.
With Louisburg and Prairie View school bond elections on the Aug. 4 ballot, as well as some contested races, White is anticipating a larger in-person turnout for the primary as well.
The clerk’s office is offering additional hours and extending hours in an effort to minimize the need for lines at the polling site to also help mitigate the coronavirus risk.
The advance ballot site will be available Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., beginning July 18. The location also will remain open after business hours until 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 23, and Thursday, July 30, for advance voting.
The voter registration deadline is July 14. White reminds voters who have changed addresses or who have changed their name — through marriage or other reason — since the last election to make sure their information is accurate before the July 14 deadline to keep them from having to cast a provisional ballot.
In these uncertain times with the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, White said one certainty is that there will be an Aug. 4 primary election. And she said her staff is going to do everything possible to keep voters and workers safe.
“My biggest concern is that I don’t want anybody to get sick,” White said. “I don’t want a worker or a voter to have gotten ill from trying to cast their vote. At the same time, I want to accommodate their wishes — whether it’s by mail-in ballot or in person.”