Polls, plexiglass and the pandemic

TIM JEAN/Staff photoA Derry resident puts on his mask while walking past candidates before voting in the state primary election Sept. 8 at Calvary Bible Church. Town officials are already looking ahead to the general election Nov. 3 to ensure voters have a safe process while casting their ballots.

Voters in towns and cities across the Granite State now see the next election on the horizon and town officials are studying the successes and challenges of last week's primary election day to see what worked and might need to be changed moving on to November.

That includes continuing to offer ways for voters to arrive at the polls safely, handle ballots and exit properly without any added stress or disruption of the day as the coronavirus pandemic challenges continue.

All four of Derry's voting districts cast primary ballots at Calvary Bible Church in an effort by the town to keep safety paramount with a lone polling location for the community's voter checklist. The town had put an election study committee in place months ago to ponder how the primary would work best if only one polling location was used.

Many new faces also signed up to help work the primary election, taking over for the older workers who were not comfortable working all day at the polls.

“It was good to see the younger generation stepping up,” said Derry Town Moderator Tina Guilford said, adding the town offered many opportunities for training for those wanting to serve.

The moderator added voters coming to the polls saw a different way of checking in at an outside tent, and voting that included being handed a pen for one-time use on individual ballots, having plenty of hand sanitizer ready, and also using special mats to be placed under ballots so any hand sanitizer on the ballot doesn’t affect the processing once it is entered in the machine.

Poll workers dealt with the public behind plexiglass barriers.

“I think we are doing everything we can,” Guilford noted.

Guilford, elected as town moderator this past March, said November's voter turnout could top 18,000 ballots cast out of Derry’s 23,000 registered voters on the checklist.

And all four of Derry's voting districts will head to Pinkerton Academy’s Hackler gymnasium to vote in the general election.

The polling location at Windham High on primary day had an outdoor area for those wishing to stop and do an absentee ballot choice without having to vote inside the building. Once inside, voters were directed how to safely cast ballots.

Windham, like others, also saw credible numbers of those voters requesting the mail-in ballots as an added safety precaution during challenging coronavirus times — upwards of 1,000 ballots turned in.

Londonderry also saw upwards of 2,000 mail-in ballot requests.

Guilford also expected a bigger number of mail-in ballots to be requested by Derry voters for November.

Londonderry voters coming out to the polls at Londonderry High were able to grab disinfectant wipes and masks, if needed, and were then directed as to which way to go to vote, and then following additional signs to exit the building, all in a one-way pattern of flow.

Londonderry Town Moderator Jonathan Kipp said people seemed pleased with all safety protocols put in place.

"Voters seemed happy to be able to get in and not have to stand in long lines," he said.

Kipp became moderator following the death in June of Tom Freda. Primary election day in Londonderry was officially designated “Tom Freda Day” to honor the longtime town official.

Voters were not required to wear masks, but they were offered, as were plenty of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Poll workers kept masks on.

"We had to find a way so nobody got turned away if they chose not to wear a mask," Kipp said. "Everybody needs the opportunity to vote."

Kipp said primary day offered few glitches, if any, and it's on to the next election.

“I think we have a great team here,” Kipp said, adding a lot of hard work went into the election planning and putting the added safety guidelines in place at the high school gym.

Kipp said election officials would meet and go over the primary and see what worked and what, if anything, will be altered moving forward to November.

Guilford said she heard minimal complaints about how Derry handled the primary, including a sole email message from a voter who said voting should not take place at a church. Other than that, she said many people are looking forward to the next election.

“Many people felt very safe and can’t wait to vote in November,” she said.

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you