Precinct workers discuss experiences during pandemic primary

In addition to being the last primary before the 2020 Presidential Election, Tuesday marked the first election in decades to coincide with a pandemic.

The Rogers County Election Board took several precautions to keep voters and poll workers safe.

Frequent Claremore precinct worker Mary Bacon and first-time precinct inspector Sarah Schubert shared how this year’s primary was different than years passed, and how they adjusted to promote civic engagement.

Bacon has worked every election over the last two years at her home precinct.

Bacon said she spends time working the polls for the same reason she makes masks for the community, makes pillowcases for kids with cancer, and has worked the county fair ever year for 20-some years.

“I just love to do stuff in the community,” Bacon said.

Schubert had worked roughly a half-dozen elections in the past, but it had been several years since she was last able to take off work on a Tuesday. As an inspector this year, she returned to relearn the process and take on new responsibilities.

Schubert left her home Tuesday around 6 a.m., and didn’t get home until 8:30 p.m. It was also her birthday.

“As Americans, we are very lucky … we’re blessed,” Schubert said. “For me to serve in that way, I can be an example to my children and an example to others in the community to take advantage of our rights and have our voices heard.”

Both Bacon and Schubert worked early voting last week.

“We had lots of absentee ballots and people come in,” Bacon said. “It was busier then, for early voting, than it was at the poll.”

“I saw a lot of the people who usually come to the precinct down there voting early,” she said.

The Rogers County Election Board reported five times the usual number of absentee ballots requested for this primary than in years past.

By contrast, in person voting on Tuesday was down, almost across the board.

“It was slower than normal,” Bacon said. “Even among our small elections, this one seemed slower.”

At Bacon’s precinct, around 500 voters turned out in 12 hours, as compared to past elections, which drew 900 to 1,500 voters.

“I was shocked at how slow it got,” Bacon said.

Each of the precincts were sprayed and sanitized in advance and maintained throughout the day. Voters remained 6 feet apart from each other at all times. Hand sanitizer was available for anyone who wanted it, and the pens were sanitized after each use. Poll workers wore masks and gloves, and were blocked off from voters by a sneeze shield.

At Schubert’s polling location, voters were directed through one-way traffic to minimize contact.

“We kept it really sanitized,” Bacon said, appreciative that the precautions were taken.

Both workers said they were completely comfortable working the election, even with a potentially fatal disease looming.

“I knew we had sanitizing stuff coming, and if not I would have had some down there,” Bacon said. “Between the county and the state, they furnished plenty of stuff for us, so I felt very safe.”

“I take my precautions. I use my hand sanitizer and I wear my mask,” Schubert said. “Other than that, COVID is not in my hands. I can only try to protect myself and others as best as I can. You can only try to continue life as best as you can, and get out and vote.”

Schubert said she was happy to see the number of voters who participated, whether they mailed in their absentee ballot, took advantage of early voting, or showed up at their precinct on Tuesday.

“We had a consistent, steady income of voters, and I was glad to see so many come out,” she said.

“I really appreciate that we live in America and have the opportunity to vote,” Schubert said. “We should exercise our right to vote. If you don’t vote, but you don’t like the outcomes, you’re the only person to blame, because you didn’t get out and use your voice.”

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