Coronavirus prevention tips for Election Judges on Election Day
Tips to maintain a safe, sanitized polling place during voting season
Update on April 16, 2020: Exactly what I did not want to happen did indeed happen to an Election Judge. On April 1, 2020, a Chicago Election Judge (17th Ward) died from coronavirus 15 days after he worked a South Side polling place on Election Day. Rest in peace to Revall Burke.
Update on March 16, 2020: After a phone conversation at 12:06 p.m. on Mon., March 16, with quite possibly the most condescending Chicago Board of Elections person to answer the phone in regard to coronavirus sanitation supplies, I will not be moving forward as an Election Judge. Telling Election Judges to buy their own supplies, making light of face masks and gloves, ignoring questions related to cleaning supplies (a handful of alcohol wipes are not sufficient), and talking over judges when inquiring why no updates are on the entire Chicago Board of Elections website is not the way to go — especially when more than 800 judges already opted out. Everyone from GrubHub to CareCredit have sent updates in the past 48 hours; it doesn’t take much effort for election organizations to do so, too. It speaks volumes that the Chicago Board of Elections had the time to update their site for Substitute Judges being hired on the spot but still not a word about health or safety. I have already voted by mail. I also hope all voters will exercise their right to vote. And to my fellow Election Judges, I wish you all the best on Election Day.
I saw the email pop up from the Chicago Board of Elections and immediately assumed there would be tips regarding how Election Judges can keep themselves safe while interacting with hundreds on Election Day. Imagine my surprise when I didn’t see one word about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) anywhere in the reminder email.
As of this publication date, there are currently 1,215 total coronavirus cases in the United States; 36 total deaths; and 43 jurisdictions reporting cases (42 states and the District of Columbia). This was particularly alarming to me considering I wrote a post less than three days ago on “Walking dogs during the coronavirus scare” and the total was 647. At this point, Americans are now chasing the numbers. (On a global scale, the total is 136,000 people with 5,000 deaths.)
So what can Election Judges do, outside of choosing not to participate (which would inevitably leave voters in longer lines and lead to the Board of Elections scrambling to find replacements)?
While Election Judges received plenty of documentation on the new machines and updated preparation for the breakdown at night (ex. write-in tape, language assistance, voter accessibility, audio ballots), there wasn’t any information on what to do for coronavirus prevention. And Early Voting already started in Chicago, between March 2 to March 16. (Election Day for us is Tues., March 17.)
Voters need Election Judges and Election Coordinators to have in-person elections. So what can Election Judges do, outside of choosing not to participate?
Ditch the face masks, or at least don’t keep touching them: While there have been ongoing debates regarding whether face masks are helpful (or “scare voters,” as one board member mentioned), the bigger issue is that they’re not always useful in the way that people think they are. Face masks do a better job of helping those who are already sick avoid spreading germs than stopping germs from spreading to the mask wearer. Additionally, should you not wash your hands effectively each time you take the mask off and on, you are putting hand germs onto your own mask.
Recommended Listen: “Mask Confusion” with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Avoid touching your own face (eyes, lips, nose, mouth), especially when interacting with the public: If you are the Election Judge who will be handling pens and registration sign-in forms, there is going to be a lot of object exchanges from person to person. Should you be someone who has a habit of constantly rubbing your face, consider wearing gloves (of any kind, surgical, winter, etc.) to make you conscious of not doing so. It’s kinda hard to fix that fidgety contact lens with knitted mittens on. It’s also an excellent reminder to wash your hands before touching anything on your face.
Keep hand sanitizer handy. As a tree hugger who tries not to buy excessive plastic bags and containers, I also avoid purchasing a zillion small hand sanitizer containers just to dismiss them when they’re empty. But as a part-time dog walker, I always have hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol) in a visible place for me to get to at a moment’s notice. Dollar stores and warehouse stores often sell large containers to help you refill the same small antibacterial ointment containers regularly. After it’s filled, consider a keychain version of the antibacterial container, or choose one that you can hang on your belt buckle or purse hook. It defeats the purpose to have to dig inside purses, bookbags and deep containers — touching everything in sight — to get to hand sanitizer. When there are slow moments on Election Day, don’t be afraid to wash your hands or squirt the ointment out. And do not sneeze or cough into your hands. Use your elbow instead.
Eat shared food at your own risk: Free food is always a perk. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Election Judges who brought in homemade meals and aldermen/women teams who brought in free lunch with snacks and dessert included. While each Election Judge is entitled to a break to buy his/her own food — and if you’re lucky, you live within walking distance of your own home — should you choose to eat the free food, again, diligently wash your hands and make sure all other Election Judges do, too. No one should be touching equipment and eating at the same time.
Consider bringing your own cleaning supplies: Some polling places have better bathrooms than others. School bathrooms are sometimes in better condition than park restrooms. Either way, when you check the supplies in the Election Supply Carrier (ESC) the day before, take a peek into the bathroom area to see if it looks like it’s being cleaned regularly. It never hurts to wipe the doorknobs, light switches, sinks, tables and other frequently touched spots that often go ignored. Click here for a CDC prevention guide on how to clean and disinfect these common areas.
Contact Election Central if a judge is ill: Some people really want the money at work and will refuse to call in during sick days. The same rules may apply during election season. There’s a world of difference between seasonal allergies and someone clearly being sick, and COVID symptoms are tricky. If a judge looks like (s)he is ill and refuses to leave, the Cell Phone Judge (or any other judge) has every right to call in concerns.
Try to work quickly and accurately: After the first few voters come in, the process is repetitive to watch: hand over the sign-up form, double-check voter status, provide a ballot or electronic card, wait for them to vote, show them how to submit a ballot form (or return the card), then they leave. As long as you can keep a steady pace in and out of the door, there won’t be a lot of room for (potentially sick) voters to linger. It is extremely important that voters are able to participate in their constitutional right to vote. Never is it a good idea (nor legal) to turn an eligible voter away — outside of operating hours or unless they’re in the wrong precinct.
But one of the most common and avoidable reasons that voters leave are other voters, or judges, holding up the line. Add in a lethal virus that makes people want to ditch a long line in the first place, and you’ve made the risk even higher. I’ve seen some voters who clearly underestimated the line on their way to work and returned afterward. I’ve also seen some leave altogether to never return. Try as much as you possibly can to volunteer to help where needed if you see an Election Judge is falling behind. The Election Coordinator should be able to help as well.
Double-check how to setup and break down machines: There are a few changes this year with the voting machines. Some have been ditched altogether and others have been improved. If you are not confident in setting up or breaking down machines, review the handbook before Election Day. Also, you’re at the polling place from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. All of that time when it’s slow or you don’t have anyone coming to your area of the line is as good of a time as any to brush up on the handbook. Do not wait until 7 p.m. to try to figure out how to work the machines. The quicker you can break down the machines and accurately submit all voter information, the easier it will be to get in and out of the drop-off facility to submit electronic equipment and election documents. While some Election Judges will end their day as soon as the ESC is locked up, there still has to be at least one judge who goes to the drop-off center, once again making him or herself susceptible to a new crowd of people.
Additional upcoming elections next week include:
- Guam ~ Republican Party Caucus ~ Primary election ~ March 14, 2020
- Northern Mariana Islands ~ Democratic Presidential Caucus ~ Primary election ~ March 14, 2020
- Texas ~ Libertarian Party county conventions ~ Primary election ~ March 14, 2020
- Northern Mariana Islands ~ Republican Party Convention ~ Primary election ~ March 15, 2020
- Arizona ~ Arizona presidential primary ~ Primary election ~ March 17, 2020
- Florida ~ Florida presidential preference primary date ~ Primary election ~ March 17, 2020
- Illinois ~ Illinois statewide primary ~ Primary election ~ March 17, 2020
- Pennsylvania ~ Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 18 ~ Special election ~ March 17, 2020
- Pennsylvania ~ Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 58 ~ Special election ~ March 17, 2020
- Pennsylvania ~ Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 8 ~ Special election ~ March 17, 2020
- Upcoming postponed elections: Georgia’s primary moved its election from March 24 to May 19. Kentucky’s primary moved its election from May 19 to June 23. Louisiana’s primary moved its election from April 4 to June 20. Ohio is trying to move its election to June 2. And in a lawsuit filed in the Western District of Wisconsin, Democrats are asking for an extension for online registration before the April 7 primaries.
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