Election officials working to secure polling locations, workers amid COVID-19 pandemic

Updated: Apr. 14, 2020 at 7:03 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina is less than two months away from its statewide June primaries.

According to the South Carolina State Election Commission, some counties are running into problems trying to secure polling locations and poll workers because of the coronavirus pandemic.

They said some county election officials have already begun reaching out to their regular polling places to check on their status for the primaries. They have reported some of those locations have already come out and said they will not be allowing the general public in their doors in June because of coronavirus concerns.

“That means the county has to find an alternate location in that precinct,” Chris Whitmire, with the State Election Commission, said. “If they can’t, it could mean moving that polling location to an adjacent precinct or combining polling places.”

He said the State Election Commission is working closely with those counties to figure all of that out.

County election officials WIS spoke with said they are taking everything day by day. They said they have back up plans in place just in case major changes are in store for the June primaries.

Wanda Hemphill is the Registration and Elections Director for York County. She said they've reached out to all of the polling locations in their county. They've heard from about half of them.

According to Hemphill, so far, no one has said they do not want to be used as a polling location in June.

Hemphill did say they'll have emergency locations as back-up just in case these locations change their minds or other facilities do not want to be used as a polling place.

“We do have plans and preparations in place for polling locations if we’re not able to use our current ones,” she said.

Hemphill said they're also worried about having enough poll workers. She said they'll be checking in with managers and workers this week.

According to officials, the majority of poll managers and workers in South Carolina are older. This means they are in the most at-risk group for severe illness from the coronavirus.

Hemphill said they will be doing everything they can to make sure any workers will be safe and have protective equipment.

She said if the pandemic is still going on in June, workers will not want to put themselves or their families at risk.

Hemphill said if they don't have enough poll workers they might have to consolidate some polling locations.

“Trying to find enough poll workers is always a challenge -- this brings an extra layer of complexities we haven’t had to deal with before in the past,” she said.

The State Election Commission said they will be helping counties recruit poll workers.

“We’re about to move in that phase and say, ‘Hey, South Carolina, if you’re willing and able, we need your help,’” Whitmire said.

The statewide primaries are scheduled for Tuesday, June 9.

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