EDITORIAL: Poll pressures

Alternate voting methods forced by health concerns

The Nov. 3 general election is just six weeks away. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 5, and early voting starts Oct. 13.

Nearly 300 million Americans are eligible to vote and normally, about 55% voters cast their ballots in presidential elections. Voter participation this year is uncertain; higher turnouts have been expected in light of heavy primary turnout, but COVID-19 could keep many people home. Several states have expanded the use of mail-in voting, but Texas officials prohibited any such expansion in this state, citing laws that specify who can vote by mail. Fortunately, Gov. Greg Abbott has lengthened the time allotted for early voting, in order to ease the expected Election Day crowds.

Many concerns remain, however. Local elections office responded well to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic; they enforced social distancing, limited the handing of ballots and other items and sterilized marking pens and other materials after each use.

But runoffs draw a small fraction of the numbers of voters who are expected for the general election, and extra precautions can cause delays, however small, that can add up to long lines by the end of the day. Obviously, elections officials must make adjustments to maximize safety for larger turnouts.

Some precinct locations might need review. School libraries and other small locations might not enable the social distancing that can help reduce potential exposure to the coronavirus.

One option is the use of sports arenas as polling sites. Two organized efforts, the Elections Super Centers Project and More than a Vote, have secured the sports arenas used by more than a dozen professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams, including the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, for use as giant polling sites. The groups hope college facilities join the effort as well.

Local elections offices might be able to utilize local high school facilities for use on a smaller scale. Each concession stand can serve as a separate precinct, and groups of voters can be staged in the parking lots or in the stands and allowed into the voting areas in small groups.

Gymnasiums, FEMA shelters and even abandoned stores might be able to provide larger rooms that can minimizing crowding.

Another potential issue on Election Day is a possible shortage of poll workers. The Pew Research Center reports that 60% of all precinct workers in the country are older than 61, and older people have been found to be more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Some traditional voters might choose to play it save and sit this one out.

Certainly, elections administrators already are working on ways to make the November election as efficient and safe as possible. Consideration of new venues might help the process.

Surely they would welcome calls from anyone who might be willing to help during the election, in case they need to replace veteran workers.

Our elections process works best then everyone is willing to do his part. In this unusual year, a willingness to make adjustments can help ensure a successful Election Day.