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What Election Officials Are Doing To Prevent Coronavirus Transmission While Voting


Meanwhile, the leading Democratic presidential candidates have canceled their election night rallies because of concerns over the coronavirus. Voters in six states are casting ballots today, and NPR's Pam Fessler joins us now to talk about how the spread of this disease is affecting both campaigns and voters.

Hey, Pam.


CHANG: So what exactly are Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden saying about why they canceled their events today?

FESSLER: Well, their campaigns just announced this this afternoon. They said they will not hold two separate rallies that they had planned tonight in Cleveland and that they were doing that on the advice of Ohio officials. And both Sanders and Biden had said earlier they would seek guidance from health authorities on whether to proceed with these big indoor rallies, whereas, you know, thousands of people are...

CHANG: Yeah.

FESSLER: ...Sometimes pushed together and that they're doing this out of concern for public health. President Trump has said that he still plans to go ahead and hold what he calls, quote, "tremendous rallies." But that said, he doesn't have any planned at the moment.

CHANG: Well, even though these campaign events are getting canceled, I mean, voters still need to vote. So what type of precautions are election officials taking at the polling sites?

FESSLER: Well, just about everywhere, it seems, they're equipping polling sites with hand wipes and disinfectants, and they're telling poll workers to routinely clean any surface that's touched by the voters. Some places are even making gloves available for poll workers and voters.


FESSLER: Michigan officials are advising voters, if they find themselves waiting online (ph), that they can keep their distance from the person in front of them if they want. And in Washington state, which, as you probably know, is almost all vote-by-mail, voters have been told to use wet sponges or cloth to seal their envelopes. And election workers are being advised to use gloves when opening them. And there are a bunch of states, like Ohio, that are holding primaries in the coming weeks, and they're also making changes. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has ordered counties to relocate 128 voting sites that were supposed to have been...

CHANG: Oh, wow.

FESSLER: ...At senior living facilities. And that's going to affect thousands - tens of thousands - of voters. And here's LaRose today talking to reporters.


FRANK LAROSE: This is a serious matter. This is a public health emergency, but it also doesn't mean that we can't run a fair and honest election on Tuesday. And so we're going to be able to accomplish both of those goals by being proactive.

FESSLER: And like election officials everywhere, he's advising and encouraging people to vote early or by mail if they can.

CHANG: Well, are you getting any indication that people are staying away from the polls today because of the coronavirus?

FESSLER: Well, we really haven't seen any major drop in turnout so far. Last week, you know, was - there were also concerns. We had all these primaries. Actually, turnout was tremendous. Today - so we haven't heard any reports of long lines, like we heard last week, but there are also no reports that polling places are empty, so, you know, election officials are really trying to balance things. They're trying to assure voters that they're making polling and voting safe without scaring people away. But it might be, actually, a while before we know whether that strategy's working.

CHANG: Well, what about the people who are working at these polling sites? I mean, a lot of them are volunteers. Are they still showing up?

FESSLER: Well, that's actually turning out to be quite a concern because, as you know, a lot of poll workers are elderly. And Kansas City, Mo., officials today said they lost about 10% of their workers due to concerns about the virus.


FESSLER: They said they still had enough people to run the polls, but other places are making backup plans. Like in Ohio, they're putting out a request for state workers to consider taking next Tuesday off and working at the polls so they'll be sure to have enough people. And they're also encouraging poll workers to tell them as soon as possible whether they plan to show up so they're not caught off guard.

CHANG: That's NPR's Pam Fessler.

Thank you, Pam.

FESSLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.