Rising Coronavirus Cases In Iowa Could Threaten Voter Turnout
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The coronavirus is rising in the Midwest as Americans are heading to the polls. Will those who want to vote in person this Tuesday and those working the polls feel protected? Roxanna Moritz is the elections commissioner and auditor of Scott County, Iowa, and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.
ROXANNA MORITZ: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, I'm sure, Iowa especially has seen higher rates of serious illness and death from coronavirus. How do these heighten the concerns you have?
MORITZ: Well, obviously, we have concerns heading into the election with the elderly population, who are usually our poll workers, of course.
MORITZ: We've tried to engage younger people, but it is very difficult to recruit younger people to take one day and do elections. So we really do count on our elderly to come out and participate in the elections. That being said, obviously, they're concerned for their own welfare and the community's welfare in regards to COVID.
SIMON: You have not been able to attract enough young people to volunteer?
MORITZ: Right. And I think it's difficult because you have to take one full day off of work. You have to have training. And so usually, that enables us to hire retirees because they're capable of inserting that into their everyday lives, whereas someone that has a job might not be able to do that.
MORITZ: You just don't see the younger population getting involved in elections - here, anyway.
SIMON: How are your polling stations going to look different and act different, if you please, to try and protect everybody?
MORITZ: We'll have social distancing marked off for everybody to ensure that they're safely distanced from each other. So I think if you could close your eyes for just a second and envision where you would once put 36 people, you'll now only have six people. We'll ask everyone - encourage everyone to wear a mask. We'll provide that for them if they need one. We'll have sanitizer and wipes for them, gloves if they want them. And, of course, all of our poll workers will be masked and behind sneeze guards.
SIMON: When you say you will encourage everyone to wear a mask, you touch on the fact that there is no national mask mandate.
SIMON: Encourage is the best you can do?
MORITZ: That's the best we can do. It's a federal election. So I can mandate that all of my employees and my poll workers wear PPE equipment, such as masks and sneeze guards. But because it is a federal election, even though the city that I live in is asking everyone to wear a mask, a federal election, we can't mandate that.
SIMON: What do you do about people who maybe are getting infected as we speak - because the numbers increase every day - and had planned on voting in person on Tuesday but now know that they can't do that?
MORITZ: Well, there's two scenarios. One, I had a young man call two days ago who said he had been diagnosed with COVID. Because we were outside of the guidelines of being able to mail him a ballot, we gave him the option of curbside voting. And he said, no, he would just show up at the polls. So I'm sure we're going to have some of that on Election Day. But we do offer curbside voting. So people can call our office. We'll make arrangements with the precinct election official. They can drive up to one of our early voting sites or, on Election Day, to their polling site. And one person from each party will come out and vote them in their car. So they do have that opportunity. But in Davenport, we've really encouraged a lot of early voting. So I've had four sites going for three weeks. We'll run all the way through Sunday. We are expecting 65% of our vote will be in before Tuesday opening for elections.
SIMON: Commissioner Moritz, this takes a lot more person power, doesn't it?
MORITZ: Oh, absolutely. So we usually hire, like, 250 people. And I think we've hired 430. That being said, we've lost 20 so far this week.
SIMON: Lost 20...
MORITZ: Poll workers.
SIMON: Yeah, because they've become, well...
MORITZ: Them or their partners have become positive, and they're having to quarantine or can't work because they have COVID...
MORITZ: ...Or are concerned about people in the polls that will have COVID.
SIMON: You've gotten support from federal and state officials that you feel you need?
MORITZ: Oh, absolutely. So our secretary of state and Homeland Security has given us all of the masks, the sanitizers, the gloves, everything that we need for our polling locations - so really grateful for that. Really, our expenses is going to be in the additional people that we're having to hire to clean and greet to ensure that those measures are being taken care of appropriately.
SIMON: Roxanna Moritz is Scott County, Iowa's election commissioner and auditor. Thanks very much for being with us, Commissioner.
MORITZ: Thank you for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.