With time running out, the Payne County election board is wrapping up preparations for its staff’s first election to be held in the midst of a global pandemic.
The ongoing health concerns related to the COVID-19 virus mean the Election Board, which depends on volunteers – many of whom are retirees and in the age group at higher risk from the novel coronavirus – to staff polling places, is having to make due without 47 of its regular helpers.
“We’ve got new people coming in and I’m very grateful, but it’s really tough,” Payne County Election Board Secretary Dondee Klein said.
But she also said they’re ready to get it done in spite of the challenges.
In addition to leading some polling place volunteers to stay away based on recommendation from their doctors, concerns about the virus drove a higher than usual interest in absentee voting.
That is creating more work as the absentee ballots and voter affidavits come in and have to be opened and recorded. Klein said members of a committee formed from the county election board have already worked two shifts opening and checking in the mail-in ballots and affidavits.
Monday was the deadline to have a mail-in ballot and an affidavit certifying the voter's identity returned to the election board.
With more people interested in voting absentee this year due to COVID-19 and a legal fight between the League of Women Voters and the Oklahoma State Election Board that cleared the way for people to vote absentee without using a notary public and pushed the Oklahoma legislature to temporarily amend voting rules, the mail-in ballots have received a lot of attention.
For this Primary, voters had the option of submitting a photocopy of their voter ID card or government-issued ID instead of having a notary witness their signature on the affidavit. The requirement for a notary returns with the general election in November.
In an effort to make absentee voting available to as many people as possible, Klein used her authority as the county election board secretary to allow any notaries who requested it to notarize as many affidavits as they wanted. The usual limit is 20 per notary, unless they are doing it as part of their business.
Area banks and credit unions also offered free photocopying and notary services for absentee voters.
On June 22, one day before the period for requesting an absentee ballot expired, Klein told the News Press that about 2,600 absentee ballots had been requested.
That equals roughly 6.6% of the registered voters in Payne County, as counted by the Oklahoma State Election Board on Jan. 15.
Oklahoma Watch reported that mailed absentee ballots had only made up about 3.8% of the votes cast in the Super Tuesday Republican and Democratic presidential primaries held March 3.
On Monday, Klein didn’t have a total for the number of absentee ballots returned by the deadline.
“I wish I could tell you how many, but we’re still entering them,” Klein said. “We just got three big cartons today.”
All the usual polling places will be open for in-person voting 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Klein advised anyone whose absentee ballot was not received before the deadline that they can still vote in person on Election Day.
Klein said voters need to remember to bring their voter ID card or a government-issued identification card that includes a photo and an expiration date.
In addition to a drivers license, they could use a military ID, an Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Card, a gun license, a passport or a tribal membership card if it has a photo and an expiration, she said.
Voters without a photo ID can still request a provisional ballot.
Registered Independents will be allowed to vote in the Democratic primary, but will need to ask for a Democratic ballot when signing in. The Republican primary is closed, so only registered Republicans can vote in those races.
All voters can vote on State Question 802, which will determine whether the state constitution is amended to allow people age 18-65 who earn up 133% of the federal poverty level to qualify for Medicaid.
Klein asks voters to bring a few other things with them when they head out to vote Tuesday: a mask or face covering, their patience and some compassion for the volunteers working at their polling places.
Because they are spacing people out further for voting and allowing fewer people in at a time, wait times may be longer than usual.
“Please be nice to your workers,” she said.