In-person voting for the June 23 primary election will look different for many Richmond County citizens as their polling place and the people staffing it will change.
Last week, Richmond County’s general registrar, Halle Cullison, outlined an Emergency Polling Place Relocation plan to the board of supervisors that involves consolidating districts one, two and three at Rappahannock High School. This emergency change stems from a lack of polling staff, Cullison explained.
As of last Monday, there were only six people on board to work the upcoming election and Virginia requires a minimum of three per precinct, Cullison explained.
“Due to the fact that many of our poll workers fall into the higher-risk category for COVID-19, the majority of them have decided to keep themselves out of harm’s way and opt out of the election on the twenty-third…A great deal of them have worked over fifteen years for every election without fail, so I know this was a hard decision for them.” And, “the safety of our poll workers is my first priority,” she said following the meeting.
The high school was an attractive choice for the consolidated polling place because under the law the location has to be within one mile of the closest boundary line of a precinct, and all three of the affected precincts have a boundary that fits that requirement. Also, although the polling places are at a single location, each precinct’s ballots must be cast separately. So the idea, as of last week, was to have one central check-in spot and to have the three precincts’ voting divided between the auditorium, gym and cafeteria.
This is a dual primary and it’s trickier because essentially you’re hosting two elections in one day, so it’s double the work, Cullison told the board.
She said there is staff to allow the Newland and Farnham Firehouse poll stations to maintain independent voting. To manage the shortage of polling staff for the three precincts at the high school, Cullison said she “pulled in some new people, including members of the community, spouses, and some co-workers “who have never worked [polling places] before” to try to fill in some of the gaps at the high school.
“Since they are so new and have never done this before, that’s why we’re moving our staff to the high school so we can kind of safeguard the process as much as possible to make sure there are no hiccups,” she told the board.
“Richmond County will see different faces on Election Day in some of the polling places, but some of the workers are not new- just from another precinct or some that usually only work November Elections. We also have a few part-time staffers from my office filling in spots where a poll worker is needed. So though the faces may be different, there won’t be any polling places that lack experienced election officials,” she later explained.
“Having those three districts together not only helps my office aid in questions that may arise throughout the day from a room away, but will also help the Electoral Board safeguard the process as well,” she added.
This Emergency Polling Place Relocation plan was approved by the Department of Elections Thursday afternoon, shortly after the board meeting. Cullison said she contacted both party chairs to make them aware of the potential change while she was awaiting that approval and “both parties agreed that due to the current circumstances, consolidation was the best course of action.”
Cullison said the county has already received a lot of absentee votes. People who have never voted that way chose to do so this year, and there have been more absentee votes for this primary election than for the 2016 presidential election. She hopes that these early votes will help relieve the volumes of people at the polling places on election day.
However, now that the state’s stay-at-home orders have relaxed, Cullison said she knows that many people want to come out and vote in person. She told the board that safety measures have also been taken into consideration. Her office has gotten items, including masks, shields, sanitizer and sprays, and the Virginia Department of Health will send Infectious Disease Ambassadors to regulate social distancing, sanitize, and make sure people abide by the governor’s guidelines to keep both the staff and voters as safe as possible.
“We look forward to seeing voters on the twenty-third, and ask that everyone maintain social distancing guidelines and wear their mask when entering the polls,” she said.