Voting during COVID-19

Chad Frey
Voter check in, and polling stations in general, look a little different for 2020 elections, with plastic barriers to protect poll workers and the public, masks worn by workers and small changes for voters.

Voting at the polls, and voting in elections in general, is undergoing change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters can still head to the polls and darken ovals on ballots or vote electronically. They can still vote by mail if they register to do so.

But there are other changes to be ready for when voters get ready to cast their ballots — especially if they are doing that in person. County clerks’ offices are getting a trial run right now, as advance voting is open for the 2020 primary election. Polling stations will be open for those primaries Aug. 4.

“I have not heard any complaints,” said Butler County Clerk Tatum Stafford.

In both Harvey and Butler counties, fewer voters are expected to come to the polls as a result of an increased demand for vote-by-mail ballots.

Normally, Butler County would mail between 700 and 1,000 ballots to voters for an election, but for this primary they mailed 6,000. In Harvey County more than 5,200 ballots were mailed to voters, and, according to election workers, there are already thousands of requests to process for the November general election.

“We may also see an increase in voters, that is the hard part of calculating this,” said Harvey County Clerk Rick Piepho. “For safety purposes we did a mailer in advance. A number of people sent in a mailer and we sent them a ballot.”

Those who head to the polls can expect to see some subtle changes to polling stations designed for the safety of poll workers and voters, such as plastic barriers between voters and poll workers.

In Harvey County, voters will be issued a pen/stylus they can keep in addition to the traditional “I voted” sticker.

“I do not believe voters will experience something drastically different at the polls,” Piepho said. “We have sanitzers for poll workers and equipment. We are trying to reduce the touchpoints.”

Poll workers in Harvey County will be wearing masks, and voters will be asked to wear a mask when they enter the polling station.

“If people are sick, they need to not go to the polling place. Contact our office, there are ways we can still get a ballot to them,” Piepho said.

Voters cannot be required to wear a mask — as per the direction of Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab.

“Article 5, Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution states there are three criteria to be qualified to vote in Kansas: age, citizenship, and residence. If an individual is a properly registered voter, state law requires that they be allowed to cast a ballot,” Schwab said. “No individual, who is otherwise qualified to vote, shall be turned away from a polling location in Kansas for wearing, or not wearing, a mask. Anyone who attempts to intimidate or prevent a voter from voting based on their use or non-use of a face mask is subject to litigation.”

In Butler County, voters will be asked to wear a rubber glove, provided to them by poll workers, if they are voting electronically.

“That is less cleaning to do on my machines,” Tatum said. “It is to protect our new touchscreens.”

Voters also will be asked to observe social distancing guidelines while in line to vote, checking in and voting.

“The Office of Secretary of State encourages all Kansans to be safe and follow the recommended safety protocols of health professionals. We ask that Kansans observe social distancing protocols while at polling locations,” Schwab said.