County taking COVID-19 measures for polls

Members of the Lawrence County Election Board discuss polling sites, election security and COVID-19 safety preparations. From left are Commissioners Dan Vogler and Morgan Boyd, chairman; county elections director Ed Allison and Commissioner Loretta Spielvogel.

Lawrence County elections officials have plans to protect voters and poll workers from COVID-19 on Election Day.

The county elections office has been purchasing and ordering supplies, including plexiglass barriers for the polling sites, additional masks for poll workers and hand sanitizers, "and we have plenty of gloves," county elections director Ed Allison said during a election board meeting Tuesday. He also has ordered antimicrobial spray to kill viruses in the work areas of all 75 precincts at a cost of $300 for a case of 24 bottles.

Poll workers will be required to wear masks. Allison emphasized that voters also are encouraged to wear them, for the respect and health of themselves and the election workers.

"We are asking all voters to go to the polls with face masks," he said. He added that if a voter doesn't have a mask on, that person will still be allowed to vote.

Allison told the board that five churches have asked the county to sanitize their voting areas and kitchens after the polls close. That includes the tables, chairs and the kitchens where the poll workers' lunches are prepared, he said. The board members agreed that the county's maintenance workers will be assigned to do that at those particular churches.

"We want to encourage people to vote by mail," Commissioner member Loretta Spielvogel said, noting it's for people's personal protection.

Polling sites for two precincts will be temporarily merged for the June 2 primary election, because the election workers are not able to staff them.


The Lawrence County Board of Elections on Tuesday approved the move of Shenango Township's third precinct into the Shenango firehall on Savannah Road. The second precinct voters also will continue to go there to vote.

The board also approved the temporary merging of the New Castle second precinct, fourth ward at St. John's Lutheran Church on Highland Avenue, where people in New Castle's second precinct, fifth ward also will vote.

"Things change hourly,"  Allison told the board. He said he is waiting to hear from a couple of polling places about whether they still plan to accommodate voters in light of COVID-19 restrictions.

The county is continuing with plans for an at-the-polls election, Allison had told the board last week. As of Tuesday, the county had received more than 6,500 requests for mail-in or absentee ballots out of a total of 47,000 registered voters. That is about a 15 percent voter turnout so far, he said.

"The general public has been patient while we got caught up (with mail-in ballot applications)," he said, adding, "As of today, we're caught up."

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is May 26.

Allison said an advertisement will be published in the New Castle News with the final list of merged polling places, and notices will be posted on the doors of closed polling sites, directing people where they need to go, he said. "We're trying to pick the ones that best suit the governor's plan for social distancing."


Allison emphasized that if people request a mail-in or absentee ballot application from the county or fill out an online request and it is confirmed, they should not also fill out request forms from their political parties or other interest groups. The duplication will make more work for his staff and will be a waste of their time, he said. Voters only need one.

The mail-in and absentee ballots must be properly completed and received in the elections office in the courthouse no later than 8 p.m. June 2 when the polls close.

Commissioner and board chairman Morgan Board asked how safe the county's ballots are from election fraud. Allison explained the process of how secrecy and affidavit envelopes are used, and the ballot to be returned has the county's return address. Voters have to sign off who they are, and there also is a bar code, he said. When the completed ballots are returned to his office, they are time stamped and the bar code is read to show that ballot is returned against that application.

"In the event of a signature discrepancy, we would call voter to verify that is his or her signature," Allison said. The voters also are required to provide either the last four digits of their Social Security numbers or their driver's license numbers or the ballots won't be processed.

Allison emphasized that people should not send in their request form and one that they received in the mail or a vote center, because it creates more work for his staff to sort them out.

"There's a flag on every one processed," he said. "If it's a  duplicate, we set it aside so I don't have anybody out there who has two ballots." 

He affirmed that voting by mail or absentee is actually more secure.

Commissioner Dan Vogler reminded voters that only registered Republicans and Democrats will be allowed to vote in the Pennsylvania primary. Independents or other partisan groups are not permitted to have ballots.

"Our elections are secure, regardless of the voting method," Boyd commented.

"I fully agree with that, or I wouldn't be sitting here," Allison said.

Because of the high number of mail-in and absentee ballots and the returns from the polls on election night, the board members and Allison discussed a stopping time for counting of the votes that night. Allison suggested stopping everything at 11 p.m. election night and continuing the next day.

"Everyone in the state is in the same boat," Boyd said, noting that larger counties such as Allegheny and those in eastern Pennsylvania with large populations "have exponentially more ballots. We might not see the results of this election for a couple of days."

"We will give them the best numbers we can by 2 a.m., which is what the law provides for," Allison said.

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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