ELECTION 2020: Registrars Prepping for Primaries with COVID Crisis Backdrop

As states nationwide hold their local and presidential primaries, concerns continue to arise regarding the safety of in-person voting. Many towns are having difficulties accommodating COVID-19 and related issues. In Wilton, Democratic Registrar Karen Birck and Republican Registrar Annalisa Stravato are working hard to ensure that Wilton voters can show up to the polls on Aug. 11 without having to worry about COVID-19.

The two have mapped out a plan with several hygiene measures in place. “We have a protocol document which sets forth what we will be doing at the polls to not only protect the poll worker but to protect the voter,” Stravato explained. That includes:

  • PPE for poll workers consisting of masks, gloves, and face shields
  • Sneeze guard/plexiglass separating poll workers at the ballot table
  • No-touch check-in for ID checks and passing ballots to voters
  • Disinfecting of voting booths between voters
  • Deep cleaning of each polling place before and after the primary

Other measures being planned include touchless hand sanitizing stations outside the polling places, as well as polling booths spaced six feet apart rather than the usual three feet. They also will follow the “grocery store model” with designated separate entrances and exits to create a one-way circulation path with arrows on the floor and other clear indicators. In addition, the registrars will provide disposable face masks in case anyone may not have one upon entrance.

While many of the protocols are being mandated by the Connecticut Secretary of the State, the Wilton Registrars are working closely with the Department of Public Works and local health officials to go above and beyond to assure safety.

“At the end of the day, it is our office’s responsibility to make sure that the elections move smoothly. What the state is providing for our poll workers is simply gloves, a mask, and a face shield. We’ve gone beyond that to have public works to create for us a shield to separate the poll worker from the voter. We’ve gone out of the way to buy hand sanitizers,” Stravato added.

Birck said the registrars intend to preempt confusion on the day of the primary by creating a walkthrough video in advance, “so people know what to expect coming to the polls, because it will be a little different. Our hope is that we make it as comfortable as possible and alleviate the extra stress.”

As circumstances continue to change, so do the registrars’ plans. “We are also considering how many people will be able to be in a particular area at a time… we don’t know what’ll be happening by the time August rolls around. Some of this stuff may not be required anymore but our intention is to err on the side of caution and try to alleviate as much concern as possible,” Stravato said, adding, “We’re all in uncharted waters at this point.”

For people who are still concerned about in-person voting, Gov. Ned Lamont has issued an Executive Order allowing anyone who wishes can vote absentee for the primaries. The Secretary of State has committed to sending out an absentee ballot application to every Connecticut voter with a postage paid return envelope. 

Birck clarified how to take advantage of this executive order. “If you are a Connecticut voter in active status, a Democrat or Republican, sometime in June you will be mailed an absentee ballot application. It is then up to you to fill it out and send it back. The definition of what comprises an illness is very broad now. If you have any kind of underlying medical condition you can check that illness box. The governor has gone as far as to say that if there is not an effective, widely available vaccine against COVID-19 [by the August 11 primary], that can also be a reason to check the illness box.” 

However, that comes with its own challenges for the Registrars. 

“We honestly don’t know how many people will show up at the polls but we do know we have to have them all open. We were just in a meeting about how to deal with the expected volume of absentee ballots,” Stravato noted.

Considering the changing circumstances, staying updated and informed is crucial. “As it gets closer the most important thing is for people to check [the Registrar of Voters] website and just make sure that they do their part. Make sure you’re registered to vote and know what polling place you’re at so you don’t have to walk into more than one polling place. A link to check where you vote is on our website.” 

They also emphasized that their office is available to answer any questions Wilton voters may have. “If you have a question better off calling us and asking than assuming. We always get back to everyone and there is no stupid question when it comes to these primaries,” Birck said.

What about the general election in November?

The primaries will also be the dry run for the general election in November.

“The problem is that November is going to be on a much larger scale. Also many of the executive orders that the governor has put in place are going to expire,” Stravato explained, adding, “That doesn’t mean that we are not going to continue what we’re doing… I would not have a problem continuing in November with the masks and the dividers regardless of if it’s mandated or not. But we just don’t know. We might be back at a point with the virus where there can be only 10 people in a room again.” 

Wilton typically has an 80% voter turnout for presidential elections. Furthermore, because November is a general election, they will have to prepare for all voters, not just Republicans and Democrats. In theory, they could have 12,425 voters coming through their doors in November.  

That number is almost double the amount of exclusively primary voters in Wilton, which is about 7,000. 

At the end of the day, their goal is to make voting as accessible and safe to everyone as possible. “We want to make sure every Wiltonian is able to vote, does vote, and does it safely,” Stravato said. “And we want to offer them as many options as we can. We don’t want to force people to make a decision to vote and put themselves at risk.” 

The Registrar Office is looking for poll workers for the day of the primaries. It is a paid position. Anyone interested in working, or have any questions regarding voting, please call their office at 203.563.011.

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