Thousands of people are getting ready to vote on Election Day but in light of the coronavirus pandemic, this year will be different.
Local registrars have added some precautions for voters at the polling stations such as hand sanitizer stations and social distancing guidelines. And while the Virginia Department of Elections encourages voters to wear face masks at the polling stations, it is not a requirement.
It has been an executive state mandate since May that masks are required when entering any public facility.
But what does this mandate mean for voters when going to the polls and what sort of safety precautions are in place for Election Day?
Here is what local voter registrars had to say on the matter.
James City County
“Mask are encouraged and appreciated,” said Dianna Moorman, director of elections for the James City County Voter Registration & Elections department.
When asked why masks were not required, Moorman said the registrar was told by the Virginia Department of Elections not to turn away voters who are not wearing a mask.
WYDaily reached out to the Virginia Department of Elections to confirm if voters are not required to wear face masks at the polls.
“If voters do not have a mask they will be asked to wear one and possibly could be offered a mask if there are extra and be offered the opportunity to vote curbside,” Jessica Bowman, deputy commissioner for the Virginia Department of Elections, wrote in an email. “Ultimately, a voter will not be turned away if they are not wearing a mask but the Department strongly encourages them to do so to keep themselves and others around them safe.“
While the masks are optional at the polls, other coronavirus precautions are not.
”Social distancing is absolutely required and will be enforced,” Moorman said.
In addition to social distancing measures, election officers will wear either face masks or face shields and will use disinfecting spray to clean each voting booth between every voter, Moorman said.
Voters can also expect a “tabletop protection screen” for tables with one election officer per six-foot table.
Moorman does not plan on limiting the number of voters at the polling stations and she does not “anticipate any lines even with social distancing” requirements put in place.
“We do encourage families to bring their children and we do have future voter stickers,” Moorman said, adding they are for children 15 years old and younger.
It’s a little different in Williamsburg.
Not only are voters “required” to wear masks both for early voting and Election Day voting, but they are also required to get temperature checks before entering polling places, and use hand sanitizer before being checked into the electronic pollbooks, said Haley Snapp, assistant registrar for the city.
“If a voter does not want to wear a mask, we are encouraging them to vote curbside to protect other voters as well as our Officers of Election, but will not turn them away if they wish to vote inside the polling place,” Snapp wrote in an email.
As for other safety measures, election officials are sanitizing each voting booth after a voter leaves with cleaning solution.
In the office for early voting, only three persons are allowed in the office at the same time to follow social distancing practices. On Election Day, election officials are limiting the number of people in the polling places at one time and arranging the voter booth for optimal social distancing.
For both voting occasions, voters will also be given single use pens. These pens can either be disposed of or kept.
York County Registrar Walt Latham said they have been told they cannot turn anyone away for simply not wearing a mask.
Signs will be posted at polling places saying masks and social distancing inside are recommended, but not required.
Latham spoke about dealing with people who refuse to wear masks and that asking someone to is not worth the argument or having germs spread from them talking.
“The more their mouth is shut, the better. Get them voted and get them out,” Latham said of people who disregard the recommendation for wearing a mask.
Latham noted York County election officials will be wearing masks at the polling places, and the polling places will be provided with tape to put on the floor for distancing. In case there’s crowding and they have to limit the amount of people, election officials will have radios to communicate how many people are waiting and leaving.
Election Day tips from VDH
“MRC (Medical Reserve Corps) volunteers will staff local polling places to encourage voters to use masks and hand sanitizer and to help staff and voters remember to maintain at least six feet of physical distance,” according to a news release from the Virginia Department of Health. “They are also trained to spot opportunities to reduce transmission of germs, such as keeping doors propped open where possible to minimize the number of surfaces voters may touch, increase area ventilation and to safely enter and exit the building.”
Tips for Voting During the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Make a plan. Visit the Virginia Department of Elections website for more information on options for voting in Virginia.
- Wear a cloth face covering/mask, if you are able, at all times while voting.
- Exercise proper social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet of separation from other voters and poll workers. Consider staying more than 6 feet away from people who are not wearing cloth face coverings.
- Practice good hygiene.
- Do not use physical greetings, such as handshaking.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after voting. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
- Avoid touching your face and face covering.
For more information, see the Vote Safely section of this web page.
Early voting in Virginia ends on Saturday.
WYDaily reporters Gabrielle Rente, Julia Marsigliano and Annie Gallo contributed to this report.
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