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St. Louis-Area Election Officials Prepare For Primary Vote Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Election officials in the St. Louis region say they are prepared for the presidential primary on Tuesday, which comes days after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Missouri.

Election officials throughout the St. Louis region say they are prepared to keep voters healthy during Tuesday’s presidential primary election.

Missouri confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, over the weekend. The young woman and her family live in St. Louis County. She had traveled abroad in Italy.

“We’ve just been trying to monitor best practices,” said Eric Fey, the Democratic director of elections in St. Louis County. “We received some information from the St. Louis County Department of Health this morning. We’ll be doing our best to follow those guidelines.”

For example, Fey said, hand sanitizer will be available at all of the county’s polling places. Election judges are being instructed to regularly wipe down the stylus that people use to sign the electronic poll book.

Poll workers in the city are receiving similar instructions about hygiene, said Gary Stoff, St. Louis’ Republican director of elections. The city was able to get enough hand sanitizer for all 120 polling places, after a delay.

Jefferson County Clerk Ken Waller said officials there were not as lucky, but said some supervisors were bringing sanitizer from their own personal supplies.

The state has contacted the companies that make voting machines to determine what types of cleaners will sterilize equipment without damaging it, said Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. But he urged voters not to panic.

“This is Missouri. We’re used to having elections during flu season,” Ashcroft said. “I’m not saying that coronavirus is the same as the flu, but the flu kills about 30,000 people a year in the United States, so we do know how to be careful and use proper hygiene to avoid spreading diseases, and we have sent information to local elections officials about that.”

Officials in Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located, have already moved polling places from nursing homes over the fear of the coronavirus, which is much more dangerous for the elderly or individuals with compromised immune systems. Fey said the county is prepared should they have to change something at the last minute.

“It happens almost every election, where we have to move a polling place at the last minute,” he said. “We put signage on whatever major thoroughfares those voters are coming from.”

Waller said he expects turnout will drop a bit in Jefferson County on Tuesday, but not just because of the coronavirus threat. Super Tuesday cleared the Democratic field to two candidates, he said, and most Republicans aren’t going to vote against President Donald Trump.

“If 1 in 4 people goes to the polls, I’ll be happy,” he said.

Reporter Jason Rosenbaum contributed to this story.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.