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Plan reduces One Stop sites

GATESVILLE – In an effort to promote health safety as the COVID-19 pandemic continues with no end in sight and as a way to save money in a tight budget year, a plan is currently in motion to possibly use just one early voting site leading up to the November General Election in Gates County.

That plan was developed during a meeting between the county’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Elections. The Commissioners directed County Manager Natalie Rountree to send a letter to Dr. Barry Williams, Superintendent of the county’s public schools, requesting the use of the Gates County Community Center as the lone One Stop voting site in the county.

The decision to use only one early voting location, rather than the three that were open leading up to the March Primary, appeared two-fold: reducing the overall costs as well as making it easier to sanitize/clean one site.

The early discussion between the two boards centered on health safety concerns for poll workers and voters.

“Nobody knows what the situation with COVID-19 will be by November,” said James Sears, Chairman of the Elections Board. “All we can do now is prepare the best we can.”

Sears added that if all poll workers are wearing face covering and gloves or other types of PPE (personal protection equipment), then those who come to cast their ballots would be expected to comply with whatever COVID safety measures that are in place at that time.

“If a citizen comes to cast their vote and they do not want to put their [face] mask on, they stay outside,” Sears noted, adding that person will then be treated as a curbside voter.

There was discussion about possible state funding that would assist the local elections board in offsetting their COVID-related costs, such as purchasing PPE and cleaning/sanitizing services.

Commissioner Althea Riddick suggested keeping that possible state money as contingency funding.

“That helps us focus on the actual amount we have budgeted [for Elections] and make sure that you have what you need to run a safe and secure election in November,” she stated.

The discussion then turned to One Stop voting. Three such sites were used in the March Primary – the Board of Elections office in Gatesville, the Gates Ruritan Club, and Blanchard’s Grove Church Empowerment Center.

Commission Vice Chairman Jack Owens asked if the same three One Stop sites were recommended for use again in November’s General Election. Clytia Johnson, Director of the county’s Board of Elections, replied that the recommendation from the State Board of Elections is to expand the number of One Stop sites and to fully utilize all 17 early voting dates.

“But that’s all up to the local [county] board,” she maintained.

Rountree pointed out that the newly approved FY 2020-21 county budget appropriates $137,288 for Elections and a single One Stop location. The six regular polling locations are not affected.

Johnson noted that the last budget (FY 2019-2020) also included just a single One Stop site, but the Elections Board was able to operate three such sites using the same amount of available funding.

Commission Chairman Ray Freeman said that, in his opinion, a single One Stop site would prove more effective and safe.

“It would be easier to disinfect [for health concerns from COVID-19],” Freeman said. “It would make it safer for our citizens.”

“What if something bad happened at that one site, say there was a gas leak, then what would you do to accommodate early voters,” Sears asked.

“I have not thought of that potential,” Freeman replied. “But let’s say that the single site is at the Community Center. Should a gas leak occur, or any other thing happen, we could easily move the One Stop site across the road to the county library.”

Riddick suggested that the Community Center gym would be a perfect One Stop site due to its large space, one that allows for social distancing and there are multiple entrances and exits.

“In these unprecedented times, we need to prioritize what we do and how we do it,” she remarked. “We have to be cognizant of how we use our resources.”

Owens, picking up on Freeman’s earlier comment about only having to disinfect/clean one location rather than three, pointed out the significant cost savings of that fact.

“That saves on the manpower needed to operate three sites as opposed to just one site,” he noted. “We have to watch the financial side of things.”

Johnson countered that using the Community Center gym is not possible due to the other events that take place there on a regular basis, to include school-related activities and athletics.

“We can’t ask somebody to make an exception to their [event] schedule for 17 days,” Owens emphasized.

Riddick suggested sending a proposal to Dr. Barry Williams regarding the use of the Community Center as a One Stop polling site for 17 days. It was also suggested that the County Board of Elections send the same request letter to Dr. Williams.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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