Voters who choose to cast their ballots in person on Election Day will be encouraged to wear masks, Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis said, but they will not be required to.
“We cannot require a voter to wear one. We cannot tell them they cannot vote if they don’t wear one,” she said. “It would almost be like a poll tax — requiring a mask or they can’t come in to vote.”
There will be signs outside of precincts advertising the county’s mask campaign: “Step Up Volusia.”
Jim Gangitano, a longtime precinct volunteer and lead counsel for the Volusia Democratic Party poll watchers, said he hopes voters will wear masks into precincts.
“They do it when they walk into Walmart, they do it when they walk into Publix, can’t they take that same mask when they walk into the polling place and respect other people?” he said.
As a poll watcher, Gangitano’s role is to sit as an observer while voting takes place. He said he first got involved to ensure “everyone who wants to vote gets to vote.”
With this election, he said he doesn’t anticipate problems, but said it’s important to be present.
“You have to be prepared for the event that there could be issues. We don’t know what they’ll be, but we need to be prepared,” Gangitano said.
Poll watchers from each major political party are typically present in the polling places and often at canvassing-board meetings, where problematic ballots are considered.
Gangitano represents the Democratic Party. Paul Deering, chair of the Volusia County Republican Party, said he did not want to share much information about GOP poll watchers.
“What goes on at the polls is private,” Deering said.
Lorna Jean Hagstrom has been working at the polls for more than 10 years, and now serves as the assistant clerk for her DeLand precinct. She said the precincts have many safety precautions in place, and voters who choose to come in person have nothing to fear.
“They’re very good about the plastic shields and sanitizing everything after a voter has used it,” she said.
And she means everything.
The pens voters use to mark their ballots will come wrapped in cellophane, and voters will be invited to take them home. Pens will not be reused. Poll workers will have plastic shields up to protect them from any stray droplets that could contain COVID-19.
With so many people voting by mail for this election, Hagstrom said she expects a lower turnout at the polling places than normal.
Susie Walker, who has worked polls for 12 years and will be working in the Glenwood area on election night, agreed with Hagstrom about safety.
“As soon as any voter touches anything, we have cleaners who clean up right behind them,” she said.
Walker had one bit of advice for those trying to decide how to vote in the upcoming election.
“Just vote, that’s all I suggest,” she said. “However you get it in here, just vote.”
As of Oct. 13, the Volusia County Supervisor of Elections office had received 61,000 mail-in ballots.
To put that in perspective, in the 2016 presidential election, 265,000 Volusians voted in total, and nearly 75,000 of those ballots — about 28 percent — came in by mail.
But COVID-19 has changed things. In the Aug. 18 primary election, around 107,000 ballots were cast, and 71,000 — about 67 percent — were mail-in ballots.
The last day to request a mail-in ballot is Saturday, Oct. 24. Mail-in ballots can be returned to the Elections Office at 1750 S. Woodland Blvd. in DeLand, until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
For more information about how to properly sign and fill out your mail-in ballot, check out our newest video on The Beacon’s YouTube channel.