Routt County election officials take steps to make in-person voting safe
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In-person voting in Routt County will be different this year as election officials work to prevent voting from becoming a super-spreader event.
While not the first election to be held during a pandemic — the 1918 midterms came during the Spanish Flu pandemic — COVID-19 presents unique challenges for election officials.
Routt County Public Health officials updated last week’s case data Friday, adding two additional cases of the virus, bringing the total to 18 for the week and 39 for the two-week span. The two-week total is the highest seen in Routt County, part of what health officials are calling the pandemic’s third wave.
“We are seeing a spike now, and it is quite a concern for all of us that are working (the election),” said Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kim Bonner.
But county election officials are taking temperatures, requiring masks, providing hand sanitizer and taking steps to ensure more space for social distancing, so they can safely pull off an election in the middle of a pandemic.
The most obvious difference will be where the voting takes place. Starting at 8 a.m. Monday, early voting will be conducted at the Steamboat Christian Center, 821 Dougherty Road, rather than the Routt County Annex as it has been done in previous years. This allows more space for social distancing and for more election judges, so the lines move quicker.
“When we are in the annex building, that space is so small that people were crowded next to each other in the hallway and out into the parking lot four years ago,” Bonner said.
Election officials will be taking temperatures at the door with a hand-held thermometer to ensure no one is running a fever, a symptom of COVID-19. Election judges will be outside the polling place helping with any registration issues.
Voters will have the option of whether they want to have a paper ballot, which is essentially a replacement mail ballot or vote on a machine. The machines are different than they have been in the past, using ballot marking devices rather than a direct recording device, a change that was made across the state.
Voters cast their vote on a touch screen that is sanitized between each voter, and the machine prints out a ballot reflecting the voter’s choices.
“The ballot marking device is probably easier than it was before,” Bonner said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a voter’s goal should be to limit the amount of time in the polling place. On Election Day, voters should bring their own supplies like a mask, hand sanitizer and necessary documentation to vote.
Voters should wear a mask during the entire voting process, clean their hands before entering and after leaving the polling places and maintain at least 6 feet away from others.
Undoubtedly, a voter will show up to cast their ballot without a mask. Election judges will have disposable masks for people to wear while voting. If a voter can’t wear a mask for a medical reason, there is still a plan for them to vote.
Bonner said they will have a large sign out front of the polling place with the phone numbers of the election judges on it. If a voter cannot wear a mask, they should call that number and an election judge will come to their car.
If they don’t call an election judge, the voter will be stopped before they enter the polling place. Judges will ask if they need to clarify anything with their registration. Then they, too, will have the option to vote with a paper ballot or on the machine.
If they choose a paper ballot, the voter will fill out a request form, and that will be put on a clipboard. If wanting to vote on a voting machine, the voter will sign a voter signature card and check their driver’s license or other appropriate identification. That card will also be put on a clipboard.
People in line will hold the clipboards as they work their way to the check-in table, essentially a placeholder, while the voter remains in their car. Then election judges will call the voter from the check-in table and instruct them to go in the back entrance of the church to avoid contact with other voters.
“When that person who doesn’t have a mask comes in that backdoor, they will be given the first machine booth or the first voting booth that is inside the door, and they will leave that way as well,” Bonner said. “So, they wont have any exposure to anybody.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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