As published by the Geauga County Maple Leaf:
If you’ve ever wondered why, with so few elections taking place each year, the Geauga County Board of Elections is open year-round, Director Pete Zeigler would say he wishes there were even more days in a year to cover their workload.
“The amount of energy it takes to organize an off-year election, even a small election, is unbelievable,” Zeigler told the League of Women Voters during a Zoom presentation July 30.
While the Ohio Secretary of State is predicting an extremely high turnout of 70 to 75 percent for the election, Zeigler said the best way to keep voters safe and avoid large crowds is to vote early.
Nearly 1,000 people are involved with pulling off a successful election in Geauga County, Zeigler said, from poll workers to night set-up workers. It also takes a dedicated full-time staff and large vital core of part-time staff to turn empty rooms and board offices around the county into a giant stage on which elections take place.
“Director is an appropriate title,” he joked. “I feel like I’m directing a play, where instead of having a stage to work with, I have a whole county.”
Zeigler said with the irregular primary election this year, which dragged into late April after Gov. Mike DeWine canceled in-person voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, there has not been much downtime this year in the board office.
There will be no fundamental changes to this year’s Nov. 4 presidential election, Zeigler said.
However, while all buildings and voting sites in the county should be open and staffed on election day, there will be some changes.
Zeigler said a huge emphasis has been placed on public safety, meaning every poll worker will be wearing a mask and each polling location will be stocked with PPE for poll workers. Pens provided to voters will be single-use only, to reduce the spread of germs.
BOE workers have also visited every polling location to diagram the safest and most effective way to run the election, meaning some locations might be rearranged to accommodate social distancing guidelines.
Zeigler said changes include the elimination of centralized precinct tables in favor of a check-in area where voters will stop to pick up a ballot, vote, cast it and leave without congregating in a single spot as in previous elections.
“We’re going to do a lot of work to make sure that as little unnecessary contact between people as possible is there,” he said.
The BOE is also trying to set up separate entrances and exits at polling sites, although Zeigler said not all parts of the county have buildings with accessible entrances and exits.
He said one issue with running elections in the COVID era is a large majority of poll workers are over 60, which the CDC says is the age groups most susceptible to the novel coronavirus. Zeigler said health is the primary concern for the election, but while poll workers who refuse a mask can be fired, there is not much they can do about voters who choose not to.
Zeigler said although Secretary of State Frank LaRose has not given guidance on the topic, an attorney from his office addressed the mask question during a recent state-level training.
“We are not, as elections officials, permitted to deny someone their right to vote,” Zeigler explained. “If someone comes in wearing campaign paraphernalia, we ask them to cover it up, but if they refuse to, we still have to vote them. And that is the analogy that the secretary of state counsel drew towards voters refusing to wear masks.”
The right to vote, he said, has a very strong place in the law.
With the coronavirus still an issue heading into fall, the biggest concern Zeigler has is having enough poll workers to keep the process running. But polling location changes mean polls could be run in an emergency situation with fewer people than needed in the old setup, he said.
He told the LOWV some businesses are willing to give employees a day off on election day to allow them to serve as poll workers and encouraged them to ask at work if their employer would allow them to take a paid vacation day to work the polls.
Zeigler said one challenge for boards of election is accurate and timely communication, as there is an extra burden of care and accuracy necessary in public discussion of the electoral process. Being unable to rely on information from the board of elections can cause people to believe elections are illegitimate, he said.
“We are good, bipartisan people doing our best to let the voices of the people of Geauga County be heard,” Zeigler said.
Zeigler said those interested in learning more about training to become a poll worker – a paid position – can apply online under the Election Workers tab at boelections.co.geauga.oh.us.