By Matt de Simone
On June 23, Virginia is scheduled to go forward with holding primary elections after Gov. Ralph Northam pushed it back two weeks from the originally scheduled date of June 9.
As the area continues adjusting to COVID-19 precautions, Botetourt County Director of Elections & General Registrar Traci Clark faces challenges with the upcoming elections. Due to the mandates set by the state, the election must meet the guidelines but with the pandemic still considered to be detrimental to the health of others, voters and volunteers may be at a minimum.
“The biggest obstacle we’re going to face is not having enough election officers,” Clark explained. “The average age of our election officials is probably in the mid-70s. I would say 80 percent of my roster is in the category of most at-risk of contracting COVID-19. I’ve had quite a few say that they are unable or unwilling to serve in June either because of their personal health, or the health of their spouse or someone in their household who they don’t want to expose to the virus.”
The county appointed Clark as the Director of Elections & General Registrar in July 2015. Since March, her office is working remotely during the non-essential shutdown across the country. She still manages to get her staff in for live meetings over Facebook Messenger to stay up on the current status quo in the county. The county is working with Clark’s office to provide the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for voters such as barriers, face masks, and other layers of caution to protect both the election officers and the voters.
Despite those measures, Clark still needs help by June 23. “The code says we need to have at least three people in each precinct to work,” Clark said. “We are currently six or seven people short of having the bare minimum—and that’s if people who said they weren’t going to work by Election Day still decide not to if the circumstances do not change. We’re still looking for volunteers.”
For the past five years, Clark has made an effort to bring in the younger voters to help volunteer working on Election Day. Fortunately, Clark has a few new voters that are 18 to 19 years old who want to lend a hand for the upcoming primaries. Scheduling around work and family is the biggest issue Clark faces in gaining volunteers between the ages of 20-50. Some people within that demographic don’t have the benefit of taking the day off since primaries are not considered to be a federal holiday.
“A lot of people have to try and figure out how to take the day off and work the election in comparison to planning to take time off for vacations with their family,” Clark explained. “That’s usually the biggest thing we run into that hampers the younger generations to volunteer but we do have quite a few volunteers that are younger. Once they do it, just about everyone who works the elections just love it. Whether it’s giving back to the community or being a part of the democratic process, people really like doing that.”
The effects of the coronavirus will linger in polling places regardless of volunteers in place throughout the country’s congressional primaries. While many may not feel safe to venture out and be among crowds, there are ways local voters may still be able to participate in the upcoming primaries this June.
“All registrars throughout the state are pushing absentee voting and getting people to fill out their absentee ballot applications to have the ballots mailed to them so they can safely stay at home,” Clark stated. “Right now, we really don’t know what June is going to be like as far as the ‘curve’ goes, as they call it. I think this is going to completely change the way we’ve seen elections in the past because it’s going to be right on the heels of the state’s stay-at-home order which expires June 10. I think we’ll definitely see the impact of COVID-19 on the number of voters.”
To learn more about how to volunteer, apply for an absentee ballot via mail, update voter registration, and other information pertaining to the candidates and polling place, visit: elections.virginia.gov