Washington State votes by mail in its elections, a policy that should reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus in Tuesday’s primary, since there are no lines to cough in or germ-laden screens to touch.
But state officials are taking precautions, starting with asking voters to enclose their ballots with a wet sponge or cloth instead of licking them.
Washington State is at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., with a death toll of nine. It’s the only place in the U.S. where people have died from the illness known as COVID-19.
The office of Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman told election workers to wear gloves while opening ballot envelopes, to wash their hands frequently and stay home if they’re sick.
It also told counties to activate plans that would account for staffing problems or other unforeseen scenarios on Election Day.
Super Tuesday winnowed the number of Democrats vying to take on President Trump, though Washington is among states itching to have their say on the long road to this summer’s nominating convention. Plus, there are down-ballot contests.
Washington voters received their ballots in late February and can return them by mail or place them in a secure dropbox.
Washington is one of four states that conduct all elections by mail, along with Oregon, Colorado and Hawaii, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“There are lots of reasons we’re glad to be vote-by-mail but the recent coronavirus outbreak can certainly be added to that list. Voters can cast a ballot from the comfort of their own homes without risk of exposure,” said Halei Watkins, spokeswoman for King County Elections.
The county north of Seattle has recorded eight deaths from COVID-19, most of them from the same nursing facility, while Snohomish County reported one.
King County does have six locations where voters can get in-person help with registering to vote or getting a replacement ballot. They opened Monday and will remain open through Election Day, except for Sunday.
“We have been implementing several disinfecting cleaning breaks every day and increased our supply of hand sanitizer and cleaning products to all locations and are advising staff that if they feel ill, they should stay home,” Ms. Watkins said.
This close to the election, the secretary of state is urging voters to place completed ballots in dropboxes after one post office had to be closed for cleaning because an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
Wyman spokeswoman Kylee Zabel said the state has a good relationship with the U.S. Postal Service and they “have not received indication there will be closures at this time, but we want to make sure all ballots get delivered to county election officials on time.”
“Placing your ballot in an official dropbox, which are manned by the counties, is the surest way of doing that,” she said.