Despite pandemic, democracy goes on in Salem

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ROANOKE, Va (WDBJ7) Though much remains closed in Virginia, the polls in Salem were open Tuesday, and voters lined up to cast their ballots.

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All of Salem's precincts were packed into the Civic Center. According to Katherin Elam, secretary for Salem's Electoral Board, that move was made after churches, who usually host the polling places, raised concerns about health and safety during the pandemic.

"This is very new for us," she said.

All poll workers were clad in masks and gloves, supplied by the state. Voters waited in line, spaced 6 feet apart, and everyone was given their own pen to fill out a ballot.

SEE RESULTS from Tuesday's local elections in Virginia

The process was overseen not just by poll workers, but by volunteers from the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, like Julie Camacho.

"Officially, we're called infection prevention ambassadors," said Camacho. "We're here to educate people on the proper way to use PPE, and also disinfecting and clean the booths."

But Camacho says there's only so much she and the other volunteers can do to keep people safe.Voters aren't required to wear masks or wash hands. And, of course, even sick people have a right to vote.

"Touching your face, constantly pulling or pushing your mask up and down, you're taking a risk," said Camacho.

Despite the challenges, including near-record turnout for a city council race, Katherin Elam says she felt voting went smoothly.

"So far I feel like we haven't had too many hiccups, which has been great," she said.

With two more elections to go in 2020, Elam says this will likely serve as a model down the road, though some changes may have to be made with the far higher turnout expected in November.

Elam says she and her poll workers are ready and prepared to handle things, if the pandemic continues to drag on.

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