The 2020 presidential election is 17 days away and with novel coronavirus concerns, there will be new ways of voting.
Most states either have existing vote-by-mail laws or have relaxed their rules to include COVID-19 as a valid reason. Mississippi has not followed that trend, so the Secretary of State and Coahoma County election officials have prepared for an especially unusual Election Day.
The Secretary of State is providing personal protective equipment to every county in the state. Coahoma County has been allocated 108 masks, 600 pairs of gloves, 90 face shields for poll workers as well as additional masks, 10,000 styluses for touch screen voting machines for voters and 36 packs of wipes, spray bottles and germicidal cleaner to clean locations.
Poll workers are being trained on how to administer the election safely. All voters will be encouraged to wear masks in each of the county’s eighteen polling locations, but by law they may not deny the right to vote to anyone who refuses to wear a mask.
What else should you expect when you vote this year? Voters are encouraged to bring their own masks, but a limited number of masks will also be made available. Polling booths will also have a disposable stylus to tap the screen instead of touching with your fingers.
And there will be new faces behind the masks and shields of poll workers this year.
Many regular poll workers are older and, due to the increased health risks, will not be working this year. As a result, the county has had to recruit new workers from the community to fill a shortage of around 50-percent.
Luckily, there is a bright side to this development. Poll workers have mostly been the same group over the last several elections. The recent need for volunteers has helped grow the pool of poll workers who may remain part of the force in years to come.
“This is a new experience that will hopefully help us in the future,” said Coahoma Election Commissioner Chair Andrew Thompson.
While most are expected to vote in person on Nov. 3, many residents have already begun an established process that is new to them.
Mississippi rules restrict absentee voting to those with disabilities, those above the age of 65 and those who are out of state temporarily such as members of the military and college students. Last presidential election, Coahoma County received around 600 absentee ballots in total. This year, they’ve already received more than 500 and expect the final number to be more than double that.
While some have voiced concerns about mail-in voting, Coahoma County officials have strengthened their process this election cycle to ensure the security of each ballot and the safety of the workers who process them.
All absentee ballots received everyday are placed in a sealed box and locked in a vault at the courthouse. They will remain there and will only be opened on Election Day when they are counted.
Usually, the county is able to announce the vote count by the end of Election Day. However, due to the increased number of absentee votes this year, the official count may take a little longer says Thompson. Nonetheless, he believes delays should be minimal.
When asked how this year is different, County Clerk Demetria Jackson says she and her staff are treating this election with the same dedication they do every cycle. She has, however, noticed a heightened participation from voters.
“Things are a little turned up, a little more busy,” said Jackson. “People have been making more inquiries, making sure they’re registered.”
From mail-in voting to masks in the polling booths, the 2020 Presidential Election will be unlike any other. What remains unchanged, however, are the efforts local election officials to preserve the sanctity of the democratic process.