In less than six months, San Mateo County voters will be lining up at polling stations to cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election. This year, however, they’ll be required to bring a face mask along with their identification card and to maintain social distance in light of the coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation.
With that in mind, county election officials are preparing for what is sure to be a historic election.
“Putting it in context, it is going to be the largest election in the history of the county,” Chief Elections Officer Jim Irizarry said. “And under this environment it poses some significant challenges.”
While about 85 percent of voters in the county opt to vote by mail or drop off ballots, Irizarry said there are thousands of new voters and people who prefer to vote in person.
The county will have about 45 voter centers and each one will be subject to strict protocols. People will be mandated to wear masks, there will be a limit on how many people can vote at a time, and employees and volunteers will be wearing personal protective equipment. Additionally, monitors will be cleaned throughout the day and plastic shields will be set up to distance the public from staff.
Any voters in line must wait outside, maintaining a distance of 6 feet from one another. Irizarry said volunteers will be monitoring the lines to make sure people social distance.
“We want to create, as much as possible, a voter-friendly environment,” he said.
All these new procedures for the election are proving costly. The county is paying for the resources through its reserves and with the help of some
COVID-19 relief funding.
It’s also adding employment, as Irizarry said he anticipates hiring about 600 temporary positions to assist in the election.
“They should have an interest and desire to assist in elections and also the technical skills needed for some of these positions,” Irizarry said.
Representatives who work at the voter centers must pass a background check and complete training, which this year includes special instruction on safety practices regarding the coronavirus. Irizarry said the county has just started recruiting workers.
Beyond just preparing to host an election in the midst of a health crisis, Irizarry said his staff is making contingency plans if other disruptions occur. He said, for example, if the power were to shut off, the voter centers each have backup generators. If those were to fail, people would be asked to complete a paper ballot.
“We will not turn away anyone,” he said. “We have redundant systems.”
Irizarry reiterated that the county has an elections system that is safe, secure and prepared for COVID-19.
“We are really head and shoulders above other areas in the state,” he said.
Residents should receive their ballots in the mail about one month before the Nov. 3 election.