YORK COUNTY, S.C. — Voting in the era of COVID-19 means facemasks, sneeze guards, sanitizing stations, and even Q-tips. South Carolina was one of four states that voted in primaries on Tuesday.
Election officials made broad sweeping safety changes to try to protect the poll workers and the voters from the spread of coronavirus.
“It’s different,” says Beth Covington, who handles public relations in the York County Voter Registration and Elections Office. “COVID is definitely a unique layer to the elections process.”
While masks were recommended for voters, workers at polling sites across York County were required to wear masks; similar policies were in place in counties across the state.
Workers were preparing for the primary for weeks, installing plexiglass shields and setting up sanitizing stations.
Covington says they lost nearly half of the people who would normally work an election due to concerns about contracting coronavirus. It prompted the county to close and consolidate many of the polling locations.
It’s an issue that could lead to long lines and delays on Election Day in November if it isn’t resolved, Covington concedes.
“This is a test run,” Covington says. “We’re so hopeful that November will be a better day but if it’s not, the show must go on.”
Multiple voters at a precinct in the heart of Fort Mill called the process “smooth.”
One of the unexpected safety precautions was the cotton swab they were offered at the entrance.
“They use that as a stylus to make their selections on the touch screen,” Covington explains.
Mary Patterson says she thought the measures in place were more than sufficient.
“You don’t touch the screen, you don’t touch anybody else, they had screen protectors when you were talking with someone,” Patterson says.
For those who still did not feel comfortable voting in person on election day, they were allowed to vote absentee-in-person or absentee-by-mail.
Absentee voting numbers shattered previous years: more than 4,000 people voted absentee this year, compared to 2,000 in 2016, and fewer than 2,000 in 2018.
Jamichael Lipscomb was determined to vote today and says the pandemic won’t stop him in November either.
“If you’re scared to vote then are you scared to do everything else in life?” He asks. “But this is important, so why wouldn’t you?”