Voting Booths (copy)

Voting booths might not feature into the November 2020 election. 

With no end in sight to the coronavirus outbreak, Monterey County’s election officials are scared of a problem that's nearly seven months away: how to manage the November presidential election if they’ll be required to conduct in-person voting at physical polling locations. 

To avoid a scenario like what happened during the recent primary election in Wisconsin, local officials are pushing to hold the election entirely by mail. 

Elections Manager Jessica Cedillo and Registrar of Voters Claudio Valenzuela laid out their concerns in a report to the county Board of Supervisors, who will consider whether to take steps to transition to a fully vote-by-mail election when they meet on April 14. 

The way California has voted in past elections, Cedillo and Valenzuela wrote, “requires polling places for in-person voting and poses significant risks to the health and safety of citizens, voters, poll workers, and staff. Medical experts indicate that it is likely that the virus will remain active or re-emerge this fall during the election season posing a persistent risk to citizens.”

The report calls on the county supervisors to send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom requesting an executive order allowing counties to switch mail-only voting. 

If the switch isn’t made, Cedillo and Valenzuela report that they are expecting a logistical and public health nightmare.

“Without direction,” the report says, “the [Elections] Department would have to prepare for multiple scenarios and attempt to recruit double the number of poll workers, procure alternative locations in contract to account for the loss of polling locations and attempt to purchase a sufficient quantity of personal protective equipment and disinfectant supplies to safeguard up to 1,000 workers at locations across the county."

The push for postal voting is coming from the ground up: “Many of our polling places and poll workers have indicated that they will not serve in November due to the virus and the state of emergency,” the report says, noting that poll workers tend to be older and belong to the vulnerable populations. 

The resistance by poll workers has been building since before the March 3 primary election, which took place about two weeks before the county issued its shelter-in-place order; 190 poll workers quit rather than potentially risk exposure to Covid-19. 

With 80 percent of local voters already receiving their ballots by mail, Cedillo and Valenzuela wrote that they are confident in conducting the election entirely by mail. 

“The department has been proactive in modernizing voting technology and vote by mail handling capabilities,” they wrote. “The department can absorb the increased volume of ballots in an all-mail scenario, which could be up to 100,000 additional ballots.”

In a break of the detached tone typical in reports to the Board of Supervisors, the election officials made a personal plea for the adoption of their proposal.  

“While political parties, legislatures, courts, advocates of all types, interest groups, academics, state and federal officials, and media are all offering advice for a solution to the November election,” they wrote, “missing from the discussion are the voices of county elected boards and election officials who administer and finance the election and who are held accountable for the election’s success or failure.”

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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