Voting pandemic

 Despite a pandemic hindering multiple aspects of life, voting in upcoming presidential and local elections still is a must for most Americans. 

Although, knowing certain health precautions before rushing to the polls may be necessary to keep oneself and others safe. 

Washing one’s hands, using hand sanitizer, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing are health recommendations for voters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Dorothy Kennedy, administrator at the Lubbock County Elections Office, said hand sanitizer, gloves and masks will be provided to voters who come unprepared. Workers at the polls also will be required to wear a face covering and will have access to the same resources voters have available.

In addition, workers will strive to keep voting polls a place where there is little physical touch, Kennedy said. One way of doing this is having voters show their identification or place it in a little tray. 

After getting the necessary information from the ID, Kennedy said the workers will provide voters a five-digit code needed to open a ballot on the voting machine.

“So, [voters will] pick all of that up, put their ID back in their wallet, take their five-digit code, and you'll be given a pencil, an unsharpened pencil,” she said, “and you'll take the eraser, and that's going to be your stylus to work through the ballot, so you don't have to actually have physical contact with the screen.”

Once one finishes voting, Kennedy said voters will drop the pencil in a Ziploc bag in front of each machine and get some hand sanitizer.

“We were able to roll that out in July since the primary runoff got pushed back from May to July,” she said. “So, it was a good dress rehearsal for us to practice all these things, and the response we got from the voters who voted in July was that they felt safe, the workers said they felt safe, and so, that was good.”

For those who do not feel comfortable with voting in person, Kennedy said they can arrive at the north side of the Lubbock County Elections Office building at 1308 Crickets Ave. to do curbside voting, which will take place during early voting from Oct. 13 to Oct. 30 and on Election Day on Nov. 3.

“So, there'll be a frame sign that'll be sitting out on the curb, and there'll be a phone number, and they can call that phone number and say they're there to vote,” she said. “Then, our workers will come out and get their identification, go in and check them in and bring the machine, actually the tablet, pulled out of the machine, and they'll take that tablet out to the car and allow the voter to vote in privacy and independently in the car.”

The pandemic has made curbside voting a popular option for voters, Kennedy said.

“So, that is what we've rolled out in July. It has always been part of the Texas law, but nobody really ever asked for it until we hit this COVID thing,” she said, “and then once COVID came in, then we had to start being very diverse and opening up different avenues, and so, curbside voting really moved from the backseat to the front seat, if we will, of how things were being done.”

Other health recommendations for voters include knowing who one wants to vote for prior to arriving at the polling location and having the necessary identification and documents needed to vote, according to the CDC.

Utilizing early voting is one way Kennedy said can be beneficial to avoid long lines and large crowds at voter polls on Election Day. Filling out a sample ballot prior to going to the polls is another way voters can be prepared. 

One can print a sample ballot from the Lubbock County Elections Office website.

Despite some people, such as students, being able to maneuver really well through the touchscreens on the voting machines, Kennedy said coming prepared to vote still is important, especially for these upcoming elections.

“But sometimes, it's always good to study the candidates ahead of time and know who you want to vote for,” Kennedy said, “and so, that's the reason sample ballots come in handy because this is a much longer ballot than in typical presidential years because you have all the cities and schools that would have had an election in May, but the governor postponed that and pushed them to November.”

Jeff Dennis, assistant professor of public health at the Tech Health Sciences Center, said one who knows the candidates they want to vote for will not spend too much time at the polls.

In addition to common health guidelines, such as wearing a mask and following social distancing rules, keeping in mind the number of people at a polling location may be necessary.

“I think in terms of keeping oneself safe, what I’ve heard a number of folks say is to expect early voting to be more busy than normal,” Dennis said.

With opportunities to get a head start during early voting, Dennis said most people will have the mentality to vote at times when there typically are not large groups of people waiting in line. After a few days of early voting, a person can get a better idea about the number of people at the polls at certain times.

“If you ever end up in a situation where you feel like it’s too crowded, I think you should, ideally, put yourself in a position to come back another time if you feel like it’s not an appropriate place for you to be,” he said.

To avoid any uncertainty with how voting will be conducted, researching how polls will implement certain guidelines and different voting options are other ways to prepare for this election, Dennis said.

Anyone who is symptomatic should try to find voting alternatives, such as curbside voting, instead of going to the polls.

Regardless, Dennis said utilizing common sense also is important when staying healthy amid the pandemic. The biggest health recommendation is following the health guidelines that election workers will implement at voting polls.

“I think be kind and courteous and helping them out any way we can is going to hopefully make it a smooth process for everyone,” he said.

One needs to realize the people working at polling locations are people who also live in Lubbock and who have jobs in the city, Dennis said.

“People just need to be prepared,” he said. “Do our best to be cooperative and help the folks wanting to make this run smoothly.”

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