Coronavirus Concerns Prompt Ohio to Move Polling Places from Nursing Homes

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The State of Ohio will move polling places for the March 17 primary out of nursing homes as part of an effort to protect residents from the spread of the coronavirus. The Columbus Dispatch has more:

Voting locations in about 75 Ohio nursing homes, including 16 in Franklin County, will need to be moved because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19 on Election Day.

Franklin County Board of Elections officials are finalizing alternate locations for the 21,000 registered voters who were set to cast ballots at those facilities, Director Ed Leonard said…

In a new online video, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said, “The health and safety of our fellow Ohioans is always our top priority. But by acting smartly, we can balance that with the dual goal of conducting a free and fair election on March 17 and the voice of every Ohioan will be heard.”

Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters during a Monday afternoon press conference that three people in Cuyahoga County had tested positive for the coronavirus and that the state was taking measures to prevent the virus from spreading.

Moving the polling places out of nursing homes could insulate those facilities from an influx of people who could spread the virus to residents.

All of this comes as the Buckeye State scrambles to prepare polling places for next Tuesday’s vote:

At the same time, local elections officials are having trouble finding hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for all 346 voting locations in the county before polls open, said Aaron Sellers, the board’s spokesman.

“Incredibly it’s way more expensive than it was a month ago for that type of stuff,” he said.

Franklin County already has tissues and educational signs about preventing the spread of germs for its polling places, Sellers said. It also bought plastic gloves for poll workers who want to use them.

The Governor is also asking election officials to assess whether schools should also be removed as polling places – though election officials say that simply isn’t feasible in the short run.

DeWine said the state also needs to assess whether schools that are used as voting locations on Election Day also need to change. Leonard said that is unrealistic in Franklin County, where 104 out of 346 voting locations are in schools.

The board’s director and deputy director sent messages to poll workers to try to soothe fears about the spread of the virus on Election Day. The email pointed out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “considers the risk to the general public to be low” and encouraged poll workers to bring hand sanitizer with them to their voting locations.

Sellers said Franklin County has a group of standby poll workers that could be used to replace those who don’t show up on Election Day.

“We don’t want to scare people so that’s why we’re always trying to strike the right tone,” he said. “Those people we have here we can send out to locations that may need some additional help.”

Election officials are working to notify voters of the late changes – and to ensure that residents in those nursing homes can still cast their ballots:

Franklin County began looking for alternatives to the 16 nursing homes last week, and it expects to finalize those by Tuesday morning. It will notify voters who cast ballots in those facilities by mail this week about the changes, spokesman Aaron Sellers said.

It also will post signs and workers at those facilities to direct voters to the alternate polling place.

Elections staff also are working with the nursing homes to ensure their residents can vote without leaving the facility, Leonard said.

“Our staff is going to make certain and they’re coordinating with them now on how we vote those folks without going outside of their facility. What we don’t want is outside people coming to their facility,” he said.

It’s obvious that coronavirus concerns are going to reshape state and local preparations for voting – with short-term disruptions in store as well as longer-term implications for elections throughout the rest of 2020 and beyond. Time will tell if the decision in Ohio and elsewhere to remove voting from locations with large numbers of older residents is a one-time change or the harbinger of a new policy – and if the latter, how the voting process will change to ensure that all voters have an opportunity to cast a ballot. Stay tuned …

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