Encouraging early voting a highlight of Monroe County’s COVID-19 election precautions

When Monroe County’s election board met last Thursday, no cases of the COVID-19 virus had been reported in the state of Indiana.

cropped 2020-03-10 sanitizer IMG_8772
This kind of hand sanitizer bottle, here sitting on a table at Election Central,  will be supplemented by stand-alone touch-less dispensers that the Monroe County clerk has ordered. The disinfectant dispensers are expected to be on hand for the start of early voting. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon) 

Over the weekend, Indiana’s health department reported two cases of the pandemic virus. And on Monday the total number of cases was announced at four.

At their meeting last Thursday, Monroe County’s election officials reviewed the precautions they had in place, before any cases had been reported. After the report of the first two cases, officials told The Square Beacon they’re sticking to those precautions, which are based on guidelines for polling stations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC’s guidelines include actions that can be taken before Election Day, like encouraging mail-in and early-voting options. Voting early, even if in person, reduces the size of gatherings, compared to a scenario where everyone votes on Election Day.

County clerk Nicole Browne said at last Thursday’s election board meeting: “We encourage you to vote early. And if you are healthy and able to stand in line, come and vote in-person … but if you have any reservations whatsoever, please request a ballot by mail.”

CDC-recommended precautions for in-person voting include providing hand sanitizers for voters and wiping down voting equipment with disinfectant wipes.

Browne said on Thursday that hand-sanitizers had already been ordered so that voters can disinfect their hands when they go in and when they leave. The dispensers will be stand-alone, touch-less models.

Election supervisor Karen Wheeler told The Square Beacon that the tables, pens and equipment would be wiped down with disinfectant wipes throughout the day. Anyone is free to bring their own wipes, she said. Voters can also bring their only stylus (for signing the electronic poll book) and pens for marking ballots, Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the voting equipment would will be cleaned with products that the vendor recommends, so that screens aren’t damaged.

For mail-in and in-persons absentee ballots alike, there are envelopes that need to be sealed, possibly by licking. In Washington State, where all voting is done by mail, voters are being encouraged to use a moist cloth to seal their envelopes instead of licking them.

Browne told The Square Beacon that Monroe County voters have long been accustomed to using glue-sticks to seal their envelopes instead of licking them. That’s because when people vote early in-person, election staff offer them glue sticks. Wheeler said the glue sticks have been offered for ballot envelope sealing in the past, so that voters don’t have to experience the unpleasant taste of the glue, not as part of an effort to reduce disease transmission.

Early voting starts April 7. Election Day is May 5. Information about how to apply for an absentee mail-in ballot is available on the Monroe County election website.