Election offices across the country have had to determine the best ways to allow voters to safely cast their ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Centre County is no exception.
Michael Pipe, chair of the Centre County Board of Commissioners and a member of the Centre County Board of Elections, has overseen the satellite elections office at the Bryce Jordan Center since Oct. 7.
This center was a relocation of two polling places for the precincts 24 and 44, which were formerly in the HUB-Robeson Center, to provide improved social distancing capacity for voters.
While not an official in-person polling place on election day, the BJC tested several safety precautions that will be in place across the county on Nov. 3.
“We're obviously doing the physical distancing [and] mandatory masking for our staff and anyone who comes in here,” Pipe said. “We’re making sure we’re taking all the proper steps.”
In addition to mandatory masking, polling locations will have numerous hand sanitizer dispensers and supplies to disinfect high-touch surfaces between each voter.
He said the Centre County Satellite Elections Office in the BJC has had an estimated 75 to 80 poll workers there daily to handle the rush of early voters, and he expects this to continue through Election Day.
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“Our staffing level is really good … it's definitely been a team effort,” Pipe said.
At voting centers, folding translucent plastic screens will be used as barriers to protect poll workers from potential infection.
The physical precautions at polling locations will work in tandem with mail-in voting measures across Centre County to ensure voter and ballot safety.
There are currently eight American flag-emblazoned mail boxes across the county to drop off mail-in ballots. Each of these ballot boxes is equipped with security cameras, in addition to their own set of safety procedures, according to Pipe.
“Ballot boxes are locked, and only opened with witnesses present,” Pipe said. “Ballots are collected nightly in a security-sealed bag, then picked up by a two-person bipartisan ballot retrieval team escorted by a sheriff’s deputy. They go back to the elections office every day.”
While Pipe and his team of poll workers are non-partisan government officials, the Democratic Party has utilized its own group of volunteers to ensure voter security.
Mark Johnson, 64, of State College, is a retired social worker who now volunteers for the Democratic Party’s Voter Protection Team.
“[Our job includes] asking questions, seeing if [voters are] registered, seeing if it went smoothly [and] making sure they didn’t get turned away for any strange reason,” Johnson said.
He said team members are strategically deployed to polling sites to watch for any potential criminal behavior or irregularities in election procedure.
“[President Trump has been] talking about sending out 50,000 poll watchers, which can be intimidating,” Johnson said.
While they are not government-elected officials, Johnson said their value is in “just being here and being a presence.”
As a major source of young voters in Centre County, Penn State has worked to ensure students are able to safely participate in this election.
Noah Robertson, an at-large University Park Undergraduate Association representative and PSU Votes vice-chair, said he has been coordinating Penn State's efforts with Centre County’s efforts.
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“We’re really trying to ensure students have the ability to vote while respecting COVID-19 mitigation practices,” Robertson (junior-communication arts and sciences and philosophy) said.
To this end, an official ballot box was installed outside of the Pollock Road entrance to the HUB-Robeson Center on campus.
“It's the infrastructure at the BJC and those [Centre County] procedures and policies,” Robertson said. ”It's a lot of trying to get out the vote… while ensuring COVID numbers don't skyrocket after Nov. 3.”
An important part of this effort has been distributing election information mailers to every student who lives on campus, according to Robertson.
“It’s a lot of early steps and planning how to keep students safe on election day… PSU is definitely trying to keep students safe, but it's hard,” Robertson said.