COVID-19 is forcing local elections to change plans

Polling place moved, requests for mail-in ballots keep coming

By GARY HENRY ghenry@prairiepress.net
Posted 9/14/20

The first shoe has dropped regarding local changes for the Nov. 3 election because of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Edgar County Clerk and Recorder August Griffin reported at the Wednesday, Sept. 9, …

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COVID-19 is forcing local elections to change plans

Polling place moved, requests for mail-in ballots keep coming

Posted

The first shoe has dropped regarding local changes for the Nov. 3 election because of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Edgar County Clerk and Recorder August Griffin reported at the Wednesday, Sept. 9, Edgar County Board meeting he was forced to move the polling place for Paris precincts 8, 9, 10 and 12.

“I contacted all of the polling places, and the First United Methodist Church cannot guarantee it will be available November 3,” said Griffin. “I don’t think the virus is going to be gone by then. They suggested we look for another place.”

Board member John Chittick asked if the church’s decision was based only on COVID-19 concerns.

“That’s what they told me,” said Griffin.

The new polling place for those who previously voted at the Methodist Church is the Paris Township Building on Ten Broeck Street.

Griffin said the building is handicapped accessible, large enough to handle the multi-precinct voting even with the new social distancing guidelines that place voting booths six feet apart, and it meets his new requirement for one-way traffic flow. Voters will enter one door and exit through another.

He regards this as a permanent change in the polling place. The clerk’s office spent $2,000 for new voter registration cards, letters and mailing when the polling place moved from Wenz School to the church. Another $2,000 is needed now to move the polls again from the church to the township building.

Griffin also has concerns about the polling place in the Symmes Township building. He discussed that during the Tuesday, Sept. 8, study session.

“We may have to limit the number of people that can go in at a time to vote,” said Griffin, adding that is easier said than done if a large turnout creates lines at the polling place or there is inclement weather.

Board member Karl Farnham Jr. suggested moving the polls to the Oliver Fire House where ample room is available, if trucks are placed outside.

Griffin acknowledged that is a possibility, but he needs the Symmes Township Board to take the initiative and tell him the polling place needs moved. Such action must be done quickly as he is running out of time to move another polling place.

Currently, he is satisfied with the status of judges to work the polls throughout the county, but that may change as the election draws closer. Some judges, he said, have already cited health concerns for not participating this year.

“Most of the judges indicate they are available, and those who are not have provided a substitute’s name,” said Griffin. “I’m always looking for election judges.”

Another big change is the expanding interest of voting by mail. Griffin said that as of Wednesday morning, the office had received nearly 1,100 requests for mail-in ballots. That compares to only 100 such requests during the April primary.

The clerk’s office will start mailing out the vote-by-mail ballots Sept. 24, the same day that early voting opens at the courthouse. Voted ballots may be mailed back anytime after Sept. 24, and the earlier the better for the clerk’s office. Mailed ballots may still come in on election day and for two

weeks after, provided they are postmarked on election day.

“There are so many things going into this election that we’ve never had before,” Griffin said at the Tuesday study session.

Edgar County Special Services and Disaster Agency (ESDA) Coordinator Jill Taylor reported at Wednesday’s county board meeting she has finished getting the county registered with the state for reimbursement for COVID-19 related expenses.

“Anything we’ve done to prevent COVID is covered,” said Taylor, giving examples of installing plexiglass barriers in county offices, overtime, cleaning the courthouse and personnel for courthouse security to comply with a state supreme court order that everyone coming into a courthouse wear a mask and exercise other precautions.

Taylor discussed the ongoing problem of obtaining Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for local use. She said little increments are coming in from the state.

“We got 500 surgical masks, but that doesn’t go very far,” said Taylor.

Her first priority is getting the PPE to first responders, then county offices and sharing with local nursing homes. She added the Northern Edgar County Ambulance Service and the Chrisman Fire Protection District recently contacted her seeking N-95 face masks.

“I don’t have any, but I’m trying to get some for them,” said Taylor.

Griffin said his office is due for a large shipment of hand sanitizer and face masks from the State Board of Elections.

“I should have plenty for the polling places on election day for the judges to use and to give to people who forget theirs,” said Griffin. “I can’t force anybody to wear a mask into the polling place, but I would strongly encourage it.”

He said ESDA can have any remaining hand sanitizer and face masks after the election.

Farnham expressed surprise there remains a problem acquiring PPE saying he thought there was a plentiful supply.

“No,” was Taylor’s simple response.