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Poll workers will take precautions

Despite the pandemic’s extra risks and work it requires of poll workers, only a few Pearl River County poll workers have decided not to work because of the pandemic.

It takes approximately 140 poll workers to staff the 26 Pearl River County precincts on Election Day, said Reggie Hanberry, Chairman of the Pearl River County Election Commission. The average precinct needs five to six poll workers, although the number depends on how many voters are in each precinct. Only three to five have decided not to work due to the virus.

To Hanberry, poll workers are the mechanics of an election.

“They’re the people who actually allow the voters to vote based on the information that they’re given from us, like the poll book and that sort of thing,” he said.

Poll workers have a long day, between 12 to 15 hours, on Election Day because they cannot leave the polling place. Poll workers will start training for November’s general election in a few short weeks, on Oct. 5, 6, 7 and 8 beginning at 9 a.m. Poll workers for different precincts will come in each day.

November’s election will take more preparation than in previous years, with the safety precautions required to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The state requires poll workers to wear personal protection equipment, which it is providing.

Voters are asked to wear a mask, and will be given one if they do not have one. If they refuse to wear one, they will still be able to vote. Voters cannot be turned away, said Hanberry.

“When the voter comes in, the first thing that’s going to be done, is they’ll be met and their hands will be sanitized,” said Hanberry.

Voters will then be asked to get their ID out to be checked, and asked which hand they write with. Poll workers might ask the voter to momentarily lower their mask while checking the ID. Hanberry noted that in such a small community, people may be able to identify each other with masks on.

The voter’s writing hand will have a vinyl glove placed on it. Voters will be given a new pen to fill out their ballot that they can take with them or throw away. Voters can then place their filled out and signed ballot into the machine that counts the votes. Then can throw their glove away before going home.

“They touch nothing that can contaminate them and nothing that will contaminate us,” said Hanberry.

Poll workers will also be periodically spraying sanitizer throughout the room. The glove and fresh pens are measures meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 without requiring the poll workers to wipe down every surface after each voter casts a ballot because they do not have the manpower or resources to do that, said Hanberry.

“It worked very well in municipal elections, Jackson County used it for three cities, they had no problem with anything,” he said.

There were also municipal elections in Poplarville and Picayune in August where safety precautions worked well, said Hanberry. Those elections, centered on the Mississippi Power franchise fee and the Poplarville Board of Aldermen, had a very low turnout.

“Everybody wants to vote in the presidential election,” said Hanberry.

One of the largest turnouts the county has seen was the Mississippi flag referendum back in 2001, when voter turnout was almost 60 percent. A typical county election has 30-35 percent turnout. Mississippians will be voting on a proposed state flag design in November’s election.

“In a presidential election people want to vote, and you wind up with a larger number of affidavit ballots because they come in and they’re not registered,” said Hanberry.

To cast a ballot in November’s election, voters must be registered 30 days before the election, or by Oct. 5 this year. Some polling locations have changed since the 2016 presidential election. Voters can call the Circuit Clerk’s office to check if they are registered or verify their polling location, or they can use the Y’all Vote website.