Pandemic concerns likely to affect ways we vote, starting now

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Life after the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to include some profound changes in our lives. Even after the immediate crisis is over, many things might need to change, and individual decisions will be necessary.

One of the more urgent and essential is voting - and first up is a primary election coming up in June.

We have seen the news reports from the Wisconsin Primary held April 7. As of this writing, at least 52 people who participated in that election have tested positive for COVID-19, according to CNN. We do not want what happened in Wisconsin to happen here.

For voters, it will be difficult to maintain the required social distance of a minimum of 6 feet. They will need to get up close to the poll workers. Even if poll workers can have PPE (personal protective equipment), which are required by health care workers, the necessary social distance will be next to impossible.

Many voters will need to be shown, up close, how to use the new voting machines and might need help placing the paper ballot into the ballot counting machine. Each device will need to be adequately cleaned and disinfected after each use. It's difficult to imagine how all this can be done in a safe, orderly and timely fashion.

In a recent Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration & Elections meeting, many of these issues were discussed at length. It was pointed out that Gov. Henry McMaster and the General Assembly are planning for the primary election to be held as scheduled June 9.

South Carolina does not have universal vote-by-mail, but voters can apply for an absentee ballot. The applicant must meet one out of an extensive list of approved criteria in order to receive an absentee ballot. (Visit scvotes.org and click on "Voter" for information about absentee voting, including the list of criteria. Voters can also call 843-255-6900 to ask questions and to receive an application for an absentee ballot.)

So, what can we do if we want to vote but we are concerned about the potential danger of being infected by the coronavirus? Request an absentee ballot and, if approved, you can mail in your absentee ballot anytime before the polls close. Among the criteria are being over age 65; another is having a physical disability. Physical disability is not defined, and there is no criteria for the need to socially isolate oneself during a pandemic. However, physical disability might include having a heart condition, lung condition or another illness that puts you at risk of serious illness or death if you are exposed to COVID-19.

In the modern era, we have not had any similar conditions that impact so severely on one's ability to vote safely in person. The staff of the Beaufort County Board of Elections have been working very hard, within the parameters of state law, to make voting safe for all.

Lastly, if you are concerned about being able to vote safely, write or call your state representative, state senator and the Governor and express your concerns. For more information, visit my.lwv.org/south-carolina/hilton-head-island-bluffton-area and click on Urge Emergency Measures to Protect SC Voters.

For general information, visit SCVotes.org.

John Riolo of Moss Creek teaches graduate research online at Walden University. john.a.riolo@gmail.com

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