Some election officials scrambling to address coronavirus concerns ahead of Super Tuesday
hermosawave/iStock(NEW YORK) — With fears of the novel coronavirus spreading gripping Americans following the first death in the U.S. and just days before Super Tuesday — when voters in 14 states and one territory head to the polls — election officials in some areas are scrambling to assure voters and make sure disruptions are minimized.
The Super Tuesday primaries — where nearly a third of delegates are up for grabs — are run at the state and local level, and currently, a uniform national response to voter disruptions does not exist.
When asked about contingency plans, the communications director for the National Association of Secretaries of State said she’d “defer to states,” as each may administer its own “specific plans” for emergency preparedness.
“Whether that’s a hurricane, power outage, et cetera,” Maria Benson told ABC News in a statement.
In California, one of the most populous states with the highest number of delegates at stake on Tuesday, new cases of COVID-19 have election officials working hard to address the scale of the problem and how it may impact voters going to the polls.
While there were “no indications of any disruptions to California’s March 3, 2020 presidential primary,” the California Secretary of State’s office told ABC News it will continue to monitor any public health alerts that could impact election administration.
The state has more than 30 positive COVID-19 cases with over 8,400 individuals being monitored for possible contact with the virus after the first suspected instance of community transmission occurred in Solano County, according to officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California government and public health officials.
On Wednesday, the CDC confirmed the diagnosis of a woman from Northern California who was the first American to contract the disease without traveling internationally or being in close contact with anyone who was infected.
Since then, other cases of “community spread” in the U.S. have been confirmed in California, Oregon and Washington — where public health officials in the state announced the first known death of a U.S. patient from the virus on Saturday.
Officials in Solano County, California are now taking precautionary measures and providing expanded options for voters, including offering an additional location for them to drop off ballots in advance of Super Tuesday.
“We have a bunch of curbside locations where [voters] don’t even have to get out of their car and we’re going to expand that on Monday and Tuesday,” said John Gardner, the assistant registrar of voters for Solano County.
Greeters, who are also sworn-in officials, will be on site to take ballots directly from voters’ vehicles and deposit them into a portable, sealed ballot box that will be within the person’s sight from their vehicle.
Gardner told ABC News every polling place and every poll worker will receive disinfectant wipes and spray, hand sanitizer and gloves as additional precautions. In the past, only sanitary wipes were provided to clean the voting equipment itself.
“We’re definitely trying to give voters another couple of options to still get their vote out but not have to interact, if they didn’t want to, with the public,” Gardner said.
In Yolo County, California where a patient is being treated at the UC Davis Medical Center after testing positive for COVID-19, election officials are teaming up with the Department of Health and Human Services to increase messaging efforts related to the threat of coronavirus before and during the upcoming primaries.
ABC News received a flyer from the Yolo County Elections office — one that will be posted at every polling location — that provides voters with details on what the coronavirus is and how it’s spread, and gives advice for how to potentially avoid catching the virus.
The Trump administration also raised the stakes in its efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the country after the first U.S. death from the virus.
The president held a press conference at the White House Saturday where he announced new travel restrictions pertaining to Iran and authorized the State Department to raise travel advisories to the highest level for the most heavily impacted regions in Italy and South Korea.
Outside of California, representatives from other Super Tuesday states told ABC News they haven’t seen new changes being implemented to their primary efforts.
“It’s pretty much business as usual,” said Steve Hurlbert, the communications director for the Colorado Secretary of State, when asked about potential election contingency plans relating to the novel coronavirus.
“Most of our ballots are mail-in-ballots,” Hurlbert told ABC News. “So, most people who aren’t feeling well can just vote their ballot and then drop it in a 24-hour drop box and never have to interact with another human being.”
Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill too said no new changes were being made ahead of the state’s primary, but told ABC News accommodations would be made if circumstances were to change.
Merrill said it’s important for people to follow the lead of state health officials when it comes to anything involving the coronavirus or other crisis-level health concerns.
“People don’t need to be out on their own, as if they are a lone ranger in this fight,” Merrill told ABC News on Wednesday. “It needs to be a coordinated effort and we will continue to follow the lead of the governor and our state health officer, as well as the Alabama Department of Public Health in regard to this issue.”
As the primary season barrels towards the general election in November, safety remains the top priority for officials in the event the Democratic convention takes place amid a more widespread outbreak of the disease.
“Our number one concern is to ensure all eligible voters are able to make their voices heard without jeopardizing anyone’s health and safety,” Maya Hixson, the deputy director of battleground state communications for the Democratic National Committee, told ABC News on Thursday.
“We will continue to closely monitor as the situation develops,” she said.
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