“We’re going to need a lot of help:” Virginia election officials prepare for November

The pandemic is posing an unprecedented challenge as November 3 draws closer.
Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 10:35 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A week ago the lines were short, the ballots shorter, as Virginians turned out for their preferred primary candidates. According to Roanoke City General Registrar Andrew Cochran, voting went about as well as it could during a pandemic.

“It’s been a real learning experience. Lot of things I never would have thought about,” said Cochran.

Poll workers had to be equipped with masks and gloves. Medical reserve corp staff were on hand to encourage social distancing and proper precautions. And there were plenty of surprises, like making sure no one got hand sanitizer on the ballots “so it doesn’t jam the scanner.”

But while June went smoothly, November could be a different beast. Turnout for the June primaries was in the single digits in many of our hometowns. November 3, it could easily top 60 percent.

“If there are social distancing guidelines still in place, that would present a significant challenge,” said Cochran. “We’re going to need a lot of help and a lot of support.”

One potential source for that support: the Virginia Department of Elections. In a statement to WDBJ7, a DOE spokesperson pointed out that the department has been busy recruiting poll workers, and distributing $9 million from the CARES Act for “additional resources for equipment and staff.”

“We’ve been given masks for our election officials. We’ve been given disinfectant. We’ve been given rags,” said Lynchburg City General Registrar Christine Gibbons.

Gibbons says she’s thankful for that support, but there have been some issues. For example, one poll worker damaged a half-million-dollar voting machine by wiping it down with state-supplied disinfectant.

Gibbons and Cochran both agree that come the fall, avoiding long lines and a crush of people will be their biggest challenge. Vote-by-mail and no-excuse early voting, they say, could be key to helping the election go smoothly.

“If we can encourage our voters to vote in our office 45 days before, maybe that will help us some with the crush on election day,” said Gibbons.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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