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Voting rights groups recommends health safety measures for election

Maggie Prosser

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The Ohio Voting Rights Coalition urged state leaders on Monday to adopt its recommendations for safe in-person voting procedures leading up to the November election amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the group outlined six key measures endorsed by over 250 public health officials, voting rights and allied organizations, and faith leaders to slow the spread of COVID-19 at polling places. The recommendations include social distancing and mask mandates, special protections for those at high-risk for contracting the virus, frequent hand washing, personal protective equipment for poll workers, and proper ventilation for indoor polling places.

“We really need to have a safe and consistent protocol throughout the 88 counties of Ohio for in-person voting,” Alice Frazier, a retired family practitioner and Ohio poll worker, said at a virtual press conference. “You have to assume that everyone either is carrying the virus or could catch the virus, and that includes our poll workers and our voters.”

Michael Lederman, an infectious disease expert and professor at Case Western Reserve University, said that about two out of five Ohioians who will vote this year are at higher risk for developing serious complications of COVID-19. He also noted that poll workers tend to be 60 years old or older — an at-risk age group.

“The right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to vote are fundamental to America. These recommendations protect these rights,” Lederman said.

At the virtual press conference, community leaders called on the secretary of state and the Ohio Department of Health to create “creative solutions” to the vulnerabilities in-person voting poses. Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, suggested expanding curbside voting. Frazier said that traditionally curbside voting was relegated to those with physical disabilities or who were unable to leave their vehicles to vote.
Expanding this practice, however, who required more poll workers, Frazier said.

“Our elected officials and administrators must act swiftly and responsibly so that Ohioans can remain confident in our democratic process,” “All Voting Is Local” State Director Kayla Griffith said. Griffith added that if the state were to implement safety measures and provide assurances to poll workers, more people may volunteer.

Poll worker recruitment is “one of the biggest challenges” heading into the fall election season, said Maggie Sheehan, a spokesperson for the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, the Capital Journal reported last week. Secretary of State LaRose is promoting several recruitment drives over the coming months.

Other suggestions included outdoor voting locations, checking in with poll workers via phone rather than in-person, and extending continued learning credits to those who volunteer to man the polls. Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court announced state attorneys who serve as  precinct election officials on Election Day will receive Continuing Legal Education credit.

“What (we are asking for) is not radical, nor are these measures unreasonably expensive.” retired Cleveland Judge Ronald Adrine said. “Our’s is an appeal to common sense and human decency.”

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