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Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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The November election through the eyes of Powshiek County’s chief election official

Poweshiek County Auditor Missy Eilander (R) has been in charge since 2007

With five days to go until a historic election held amidst a global pandemic, The S&B’s Ben Mikek spoke with Poweshiek County Auditor Missy Eilander about her plans to keep votes and voters safe on and before Nov. 3. As of Oct. 27, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office, 5,096 absentee ballots had been cast in Poweshiek County with another 804 still to be returned.

The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.

The S&B: It’s a week until the election; how are you feeling?

Missy Eilander:  Well, a little stressed. It’s been very busy. The early voting in the office has been extremely busy. We had over 100 people vote in person today [Oct. 27].

What precautions have you been taking so far, both in early voting and then in preparation for Nov. 3, to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Well, all of my staff wears their masks. We have plexiglass shields at our counter, each voter gets a sanitized pen to use and then they either take it with them or they drop it in a box when they drop off their voted ballot. We sanitize the counters and the voting booths in between each voter, we have all our voting booths six feet apart in our hallway and we try to keep people distanced while waiting in the hallway, and also at our counter, so that we don’t have them crammed up at the counter. We’ve got hand sanitizer available everywhere, and [we’re] just doing the best we can with what we have to work with.

As for Election Day, again, we’ll have all of the items [already mentioned].

As for the workers: they’ll have gloves, [they’ll] have masks to wear, they have face shields if they can’t wear a mask, sanitizer, and again, they’ll be cleaning in between each voter at the voting booth. That’s what we’re doing.

For a voter who’s scared of coming to a polling place because of the risk of COVID-19 – maybe they’re in a high-risk category – what would you say to a voter like that?

Well, if they haven’t voted yet, there’s always the option of curbside voting, where they could pull up their car and they wouldn’t have to leave their vehicle. Two election officials, one from each party, would go out, bring the ballot and that out to them to vote in their car, so they wouldn’t be in the building with a bunch of other people. They could stay in their car, you know, hand it to them through their window, they vote it, and then when they’re done, they give it back, and the two election officials will take it in and run it through the scanner.

And they can also do that early voting-wise here at the courthouse, and again if they don’t feel comfortable coming into the courthouse, they can just call.

Have you heard any concerns from poll workers about their safety, and have any poll workers who have worked with you in previous years either not been able to or decided not to work with you this year because of COVID-19?

I have a lot of election officials, [because some] of my past election officials are not working this time due to [COVID-19], due to their own personal reasons or they have family members that say, ‘Mom, you’re not doing that this year.’ You know, they want to, but their kids don’t want their parents out in that. So, I do have a lot of new workers this year.

Do you think you have enough poll workers for the day of the election?

Well, I sure hope so. Right now, I have my precincts staffed pretty well. So, knock on wood, nobody backs out last minute, I think it will be all right.

As far as poll workers who are working on the day, does the extra burden of infection-control add more to their workload, and if so, do you anticipate that being a problem?

Well sure it’s going to add to their workload, because they’re going to have to sanitize between each voter, so there’s going to be someone that needs to be designated to be [the] cleaner, to go around and spray down the booths after each voter. … And then we’ll probably have someone providing hand sanitizer as they’re coming in the door. So yeah, there’ll be some added duties that way. But I don’t know [if] it will be a burden to them. I’ve tried to get enough people so that we have all of those areas covered.

Has the choice of polling places changed in response to the pandemic?

Yes, I changed a few of them. I had three locations that were fairly small, so I combined them with one at a larger facility just to allow for the separation distance. And also due to workers – they’re kind of hard to find right now.

Do you anticipate the reduction in total number of polling places could present a problem for anyone who is trying to vote?

I don’t foresee that, because I combined one ward in Grinnell with another one, so [voters will] still be in Grinnell. They’re not traveling much further.

Note to readers: The two Grinnell polling locations on election day will be at Elks Lodge (for East and West Grinnell) and the Poweshiek County Fairgrounds (for North Grinnell). If you’re unsure about where to vote, find your polling location with your address here.

After the election, what would be the best-case scenario, and have you thought anything about what could potentially go wrong, with regard to COVID-19 at polling places on Election Day?

What could go wrong? I don’t know – I suppose anything could go wrong. I suppose you could have someone who is infected with it and coughs on everyone, I don’t know. I’m hoping that this has been going on long enough, and I hope people are respectful, and if they’re ill they’re not going to come in. They should just call and say, ‘Hey, I’m ill but I still want to vote. What are my options?’ and we can walk through the curbside voting with them.

Say for example that a voter who is obviously sick walks into a polling place. Have you thought anything about what might happen in that kind of a situation?

Well, [polling workers] have to allow the voter to vote. We can’t turn them away. So I suppose we’re just going to have to keep an eye on them, and obviously sanitize when they’re gone. I guess I don’t know how obvious it’s going to be when someone comes in and they have [COVID-19] or not. We’re just doing the best we can with what we’re dealt, so it’s uncharted waters for all of us and, you know, the auditors are just trying to do the best we can.

Do you think the increase in absentee ballots will make work on Election Day easier?

Absentee ballots are going to be counted on Election Day like they usually are, so obviously it will just take a little longer because there will be more ballots to count. I mean, there won’t be any additional work involved. It will just take a longer time.

Is there anything else I didn’t ask about that you want to talk about?

Again, just for people to have patience, [because] I don’t know what this is going to be like. Is it going to be busy? Are there going to be lines? I don’t know. Hopefully people have patience and will be respectful of those around them and keep their distance and wait. And again, I have a lot of new election officials, so this is all new to them, and we’ve got some training set up two days this week, Thursday and Friday, so try to get them all trained and we’ll just keep our fingers crossed that everybody stays and healthy and we don’t have any problems.

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