Make it Count: Voting during a pandemic, what county clerks learned from August

"Make It Count" Voter's Guide
Make It Count

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.- County clerks in the Ozarks are working to ensure the voting polls are safe in November.

Greene County

During the August elections, Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller says they had two workers at each Greene County polling location.

“Just to make sure the voting surfaces were clean, the doors they were coming in and out of were clean,” says Schoeller.

During that election, voters saw plexiglass shields, social distance markers, and extra cleaning supplies.

“We had to deliver more spray cleaner. Especially in November, we’re going to have to make sure that they have adequate cleaning supplies to make sure they can get through the entirety of the day,” says Schoeller.

It was an effort voters appreciated.

“Two or three weeks later, people have come up and said ‘thanks for what you did it made a difference and we really appreciate it,” says Schoeller.

Schoeller says he knows of one voter that was frustrated about there not being a masking requirement outside of Greene County.

“We can’t enforce an ordinance that is not there,” says Schoeller. “The other thing that we’ve explained to voters who have asked about that is that the right to vote does supersede a masking ordinance. So, even if inside the city limits of Springfield, if someone was upset, they’re welcome to call 9-1-1, but that person is still afforded the right to vote. And, then law enforcement can address that with that individual.”

Schoeller encourages people who are able to vote before November 3 to do so.

“That will make it a better experience for voters on Election Day,” says Schoeller. “That’s going to make sure that the lines are decreased.”

Greene County has central polling locations available to voters, including:

  • Missouri State University
  • CoxHealth
  • Mercy Hospital Springfield  
  • City Utilities Bus Transit Center

Christian County

Christian County Clerk Kay Brown says her staff took similar precautions for voter safety. Brown says a lot of people were sanitizing pens and tables. Sneeze guards and sanitizing wipes were available. Christian County also had someone counting the number of people in each of the buildings for safety distancing.

“It went very well. We had a few complaints, but that’s not abnormal,” says Brown.

Brown says they did have complaints about COVID-19, even though Christian County does not have a masking ordinance.

“We had complaints from people who had wished that everyone wore masks… and then we had complaints that there were many of our judges that wore masks. So it’s difficult to please everyone,” says Brown.

As county clerk, Brown encourages her election judges to wear a mask, but she mentions that she can’t force them to wear one.

“I would encourage them to do so because it would make more peace at the polls,” says Brown. “We do the very best we can with voters. We try to be conscientious. But, November will be a different arena to work from. The numbers are going to be higher. There’s a lot of energy in this election.”

Come November 3, she wants to assure voters that their vote will matter.

“We go to great measures to make sure your vote counts,” says Brown.

Webster County

Webster County Clerk Stan Whitehurst says the August primary went fairly well. Hand sanitizer was provided to voters, masks were given to judges, and plexiglass was used. Also, the county got rid of the “I voted” sticker, and gave out “I voted” pens instead.

Like Christian County, this area also doesn’t have a masking ordinance. In the county’s larger polling areas, workers wore masks. In rural areas, there wasn’t much masking.

“It’s kind of a difficult situation,” says Whitehurst. “The voting public’s expectations are so varied that it’s going to be impossible for us to meet everyone’s expectations. So, we’re going to do the best we can. We feel like we have reasonable guidelines in place.”

Whitehurst says when he did judge training, he offered masks to judges, but said it would be fine if they didn’t wear one.

“This is Missouri,” says Whitehurst. “If you tell someone they have to do something, you’re going to encounter resistance. And, we also warned them that if they wore a mask they might have a voter look at them odd, and if they didn’t wear a mask, they were probably going to have a voter look at them odd. In this environment right now, I think voluntary works very well.”

To handle high polling numbers, Whitehurst gives his office advice on how to handle the upcoming election.

“Be prepared and also be flexible,” says Whitehurst. “And know that when we’re dealing with the public, people’s anxiety are really heightened right now. And to just have a little more patience because this is just going to be part of this experience.”

In August, Webster County received a call from a voter upset about someone wearing their mask incorrectly.

“When you prepare for an election, it’s generally the issue you don’t prepare for that catches you,” says Whitehurst. “I know we’ll have some issues with virus protection preparations.”

But, Whitehurst says he wants to make sure his judges aren’t too focused on COVID-19.

“For people who still continue to have concerns, voting by other means is an option,” says Whitehurst. “I just don’t want my judges to get fixated on that type of thing and forget about the core reason of why they’re there.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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