Masks, hand-sanitizer and social distancing as voters hit the polls

County auditors say more mail-in ballots being sent out during the pandemic.

Bobbi Jo Salzer helped Dan Williams from behind plexiglass as Williams prepared to fill out his ballot for the June 2 primaries. (Union photo by Ashley Duong)
Bobbi Jo Salzer helped Dan Williams from behind plexiglass as Williams prepared to fill out his ballot for the June 2 primaries. (Union photo by Ashley Duong)

Masks on and hand sanitizer at the ready, poll workers and voters alike hit the polls in Southeast Iowa on Tuesday.

When voters entered their polling place, they were greeted by disposable face masks, gloves and reminders to practice social distancing from signs taped on floors.

“It’s different … Most people who come in are wearing masks so that’s nice. They’re taking the precautions that they should. It’s a little different with the plexiglass up here — it’s a little harder to communicate sometimes with people but we’ve been doing really good,” Bobbi Jo Salzer, a poll worker who was stationed to help Ward 1 and 2 voters in Mt. Pleasant, said.

Volunteers BJ Wetcherell, Jasmine Mares, Hannah Black and Pat Fritz were in charge of the voting location at the courthouse in Washington. The volunteers said there were not many concerns about safety and the large table between them and the voters along with face shields and sanitizers helped.

Ashley Stout, a poll worker at the Washington High School gymnasium said the election commission gave them two different styles of face shields to try.

In addition to offering masks and hand sanitizer at the locations, workers were also habitually wiping down voting booths with a disinfectant spray and rags. All of the locations provided voters with pens which they could take with them after filling out their ballots to avoid sharing.

At the Washington Courthouse voting precinct for Ward 1 and 4 voters, 26 people had voted by noon, and by 2:45 p.m., 44 people had voted.

By 4 p.m., around 120 people had voted at the Washington High School Gymnasium polling place for Ainsworth, Brighton/Marion/Crawford, Ward 2 and Ward 3 precincts.

Bob Griffith, a poll worker in Mt. Pleasant said about 100 voters had gone through Mt. Pleasant by midday.

“It’s less than usual but it’s been a steady stream,” he said.

With concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, Henry County saw an increase in absentee voting. Henry County Auditor Shelly Barber said her department sent out close to 3,000 mail-in ballots — the same total amount of voters the county saw at the last primary. Only four poll workers were stationed at the polling location for this election, which served all four Wards in Mt. Pleasant.

“Usually we would have four stations so we’ve doubled up. Normally we would have four workers at each table, but just two workers here,” Salzer added about the 2020 primary.

Washington County had 2,543 absentee ballots turned in. Dan Widmer, the Washington County auditor said this was much higher than usual.

In the general presidential elections four years ago and eight years ago, Washington County had around 5,000 absentee ballots. Widmer said this tells a lot about voter turnout and the coronavirus since the primary absentee ballots is around half the amount.

“Voting from the comfort of their home may be appealing and attractive,” Widmer said.

Poll volunteers at the courthouse said the high number of absentee ballots made them feel more comfortable, compared to having a high number of in-person voters.

Dan Williams, a Mt. Pleasant resident who decided to vote in person, arrived at the polling location with a mask on.

“If I couldn’t get out, then I would vote absentee but I can, so I did,” he said, “I just enjoy the process.”

Robert Davis, another voter, was less concerned with the precautions set up by the polling location.

“I haven’t worn a mask since the start of this nonsense and I have pleurisy. I’m not worried about it,” he said.

Davis added he felt it was still important to vote in the midst of the pandemic because it allows “for citizens to decide how they want to be organized.”