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State election boards need to take notes from retail stores

Grocery stores are making better decisions on coronavirus prevention than state government

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Mar 18 · 5 min read
Photo credit: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

Illinois completed its official Election Day last night, and former Vice President Joe Biden has swept this state and two others. While Bernie Bros can debate all day long about why they’re too busy for mail-in ballots, absentee ballots, early voting and leaving work early to vote on Election Day (regardless of time-off-to-vote options in 30 states), what is significantly more important is the response to 2020 elections and how Election Judges, Election Coordinators and voters are being treated. States may want to look to retailers for how to handle health crises better during an election season.

While more than 800 Election Judges in Chicago dropped out by Election Day, reportedly due to the coronavirus scare, local politicians seem to be tone deaf to the reason why. Not all of them though. 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. The State Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s decision to delay the primaries until June. But it speaks volumes that Arizona, Florida and Illinois went on with their elections instead of opting for mail-in only options like that of Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

In a health crisis that went from 647 total infections (and 25 deaths) last Tuesday to 7,038 total infections (97 deaths) in one week, isn’t it odd that grocery stores handled the news better than election boards? Even the Internal Revenue Service confirmed a 90-day extension for taxes owed, but the Chicago Board of Elections just posted an alert to hire Substitute Judges on the spot who completed the four-hour training and were eligible.

Grocery stores and apparel retailers understand that they are for-profit organizations that largely depend on able-bodied, healthy and willing customers to enter their doors and spend their money. They’re also aware that a large absence in cashiers, sales clerks, managers, stockroom employees, logistics and warehouse staff, and other retail employees falling ill within the same space is going to impact their businesses. This is why retailers like Kroger, Walmart, Target, Publix, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and many others took steps to not only provide food and safety prevention, but shuttered doors, changed the store operation hours, offered paid absences and took steps to make sure that employee-to-customer interactions are minimal.

Meanwhile, in cities such as Chicago, the Board of Elections has absolutely nothing on their website even acknowledging health and safety prevention for this worldwide crisis. The only announcement sent out to Election Judges was a reminder regarding language assistance, voter accessibility and audio ballots.

There is no language about coronavirus prevention or health tips on the Board of Elections site.

Brick-and-mortar retailers are fully aware that customers could just stay home and order online — even if online major players like Amazon are having difficulties fulfilling all requests in a timely manner. They are fully aware that they are asking people to come out to support their organizations. Of course fighting over toilet paper is clearly not the same as voting in a presidential election, but (unfortunately) there are enough non-voters out there who would prioritize their grocery lists over standing in an auditorium so packed that there are only six seats left to vote early. (True story.) And Election Judges, Election Coordinators and voters are left to fend for themselves when a required extension on mail-in ballots could have resolved it all. Quiet as it’s kept, $255 for Returning Judges, $25 for Key Judges, $25 for Cell Phone Judges and $25 for drop-offs (a second crowd to expose onself) will quickly wipe itself out should that same Election Judge or Coordinator end up with medical bills for coronavirus exposure — or worse.

Is it not mind-boggling that GrubHub is giving tips for how food delivery people should drop off food and Amazon Flex drivers are getting instructions for how to interact with customers, all while Election Judges (in Chicago at least) were just thrown into the fire to figure it out with a sandwich bag’s worth of alcohol wipes? Imagine the reaction (and boycott) from customers if a retail store knew that 205K people were infected and 8,200 died worldwide, but the retailer just said, “Meh, come anyway. And tell your friend to fill out an application if he’s looking for a job too.”

Voting is one of the single most important things that U.S. citizens (and those worldwide) can do. But they should not be put in harm’s way in order to practice this right or participate as a worker. Voters like myself participated in mail-in voting. Chicago even broke World War II records for vote-by-mail applications and lead to 118K mail requests. And somehow the Board of Elections still thought that social isolation or supplies and prevention tips for Election Judges (and voters) was just not worth an announcement?

It’s spilled milk for Chicago, but there are still plenty more elections coming up across the United States (and Wisconsin is already suing to extend online registration for their primary on April 7). If ever there was a time to learn from past mistakes, and apparently useful tactics from online and brick-and-mortar retailers, here’s your chance to do better.

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Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; part-time dog walker and dog sitter; Toastmasters member and 5x officer; WERQ dance and yoga enthusiast;

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