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Ohio Officials Take Coronavirus Precautions Ahead Of Elections

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Two states have now delayed their scheduled presidential primaries. Georgia and Louisiana decided that later this year would be better. Four states go ahead this week. People in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio vote tomorrow. How can they keep their elections safe and secure? Andy Chow of Ohio Public Radio reports on his state's efforts.

ANDY CHOW, BYLINE: Every primary, the Thurber Tower senior living center near downtown Columbus opens its doors as a polling location for its 450 residents and the surrounding community, but not this year.

KATHY: Could you sign in, please? And I need to...

CHOW: Yes.

KATHY: ...Take your temperature, if that's OK.

CHOW: As I walk into the center, I'm greeted by Kathy at the front desk, who promptly takes my temperature.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE BEEPING)

CHOW: It's part of the new public health order issued by Governor Mike DeWine to screen visitors for potential symptoms.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE BEEPING)

KATHY: Ninety-seven-point-five.

CHOW: All right.

KATHY: It's all good.

CHOW: Last week, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered every polling location set in a senior living facility to relocate due to the virus. That's 163 voting locations around the state covering tens of thousands of voters. That means fewer nonresidents coming into the nursing homes and potentially bringing the virus with them.

FRANK LAROSE: It was a difficult decision. It required a lot of work by our county boards of elections. As elections officials tend to do, they rose to the occasion.

CHOW: Rising to the occasion means those officials are trying to give the displaced voters new options. Peg Rosenfield is a resident of Thurber Tower and a longtime voter advocate. She says, while the pandemic is a big concern, the primary must go on.

PEG ROSENFIELD: It's too important. We're going to go on having elected officials. Well, you've got to elect them.

CHOW: Bipartisan teams of election officials are delivering absentee ballots to nursing home residents. In some cases, they're deputizing facility employees to protect against ballot tampering. These are only some of the steps taking place around Ohio.

Up at the Franklin County Board of Elections, Brian McCann is cleaning the machines at an early voting center.

BRIAN MCCANN: Periodically, we come through here, and we can wipe the whole machine down.

CHOW: Despite all these efforts, Board of Elections spokesperson Aaron Sellers says there is still another big challenge.

AARON SELLERS: We are losing some poll workers late in the process.

CHOW: He says about 200 poll workers in the county dropped out in just two days.

SELLERS: You know, we're trying to reach out to anybody that we can to get some additional poll workers to fill in the spots that are opening up.

CHOW: The secretary of state's office set up a statewide website to recruit new poll workers. So far, they've signed up more than 1,000. People are pitching in in other ways, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

MARY VAN NORTWICK: Hello?

CHOW: Hi, Mary.

Mary Van Nortwick’s retirement community in northeast Ohio no longer allows outside visitors. So Van Nortwick has volunteered to help those who can't leave the home.

VAN NORTWICK: I took in a lot of absentee ballot request forms today to the board of elections.

CHOW: One other big issue here - all the displaced college students who usually vote where they go to school. Election officials are encouraging those students to get a mail-in ballot or to make the trip back to campus to vote. For NPR News, I'm Andy Chow in Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.