Elections Covid-19

Volunteer ballot box courier Wayne Schade locks up a ballot box after emptying it outside City Hall in Coos Bay.

COOS COUNTY — The Coos County Elections Office is encouraging voters to submit their ballots by mail this election season as a number of local ballot drop sites have become unavailable due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, public libraries and city halls around Coos County announced they would be restricting access or closing their doors all together in response to the novel coronavirus which as hosts of many of the county’s ballot boxes also meant drop sites were now inaccessible.

The majority of the closures are expected to last until March 31.

At this time, Coos County Clerk Debbie Heller said she is uncertain whether or not the libraries may extend their closures or if further limitations will be placed around the state leading up to Election Day. As a result, she said the Elections Office is currently working to secure new sites.

“I’ll be putting in an insert with the ballot packets to encourage voters to mail in their ballots early to ensure their votes are counted,” said Heller. “We also want to remind voters to check the website regularly because drop sites may change.”

A bill passed by Oregon lawmakers in 2019, went into effect earlier this year which no longer requires voters to pay for their own postage in order to return their ballots via mail. With the primary election a little more than a month away, Heller said she’s hopeful that people in Coos County will take advantage of the new pre-paid postage option.

Ballots are expected to be mailed out locally on Thursday, April 30 and the voter’s pamphlet, which is produced by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, is expected to be mailed out between April 27 and 29.

For military and overseas voters, ballots are expected to be mailed out no later than April 4. Voters who do not receive their ballots through the mail by May 7 should call the Elections Office, said Heller.

In a press release issued Thursday, March 19 Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno announced Oregon’s May 19 Primary Election will continue on as planned. According to the press release, a number of actions have taken place this week such as sending off the certified list of 371 candidates that filed to run for office as well as beginning efforts to put together and proofread the voter’s pamphlet.

“Because Oregon votes by mail we do not have to be concerned about social distancing issues at polling places that so many other states are struggling with,” said the press release. “Many states are looking to implement our vote by mail system as a safer way to conduct elections in November. Contingency plans are being prepared to deal with any impacts the COVID-19 virus may have on our election processes.”

Heller added as a reassurance to voters that the ballot packets expected to be mailed out next month are being prepared by machines. For those concern about COVID-19, she said the packets will have almost no physical contact with employees.

In addition to mailing in ballots, the Elections Office in Coquille, which has limited its public access due to the coronavirus, is also urging people looking to register to vote to do so online at oregonvotes.gov. A registration card can still be picked up at any local post office or DMV and mailed to the Elections Office, said Heller.

In the next few days, Heller said she will be reaching out to board workers, a group of temporary employees, to check if they would able to assist them in May with processing and counting ballots as well as to discuss any coronavirus concerns they may have.

A majority of those employees Heller pointed out are considered high-risk for the COVID-19 simply based on their age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a number of guidelines on election polling locations and handling mail in ballots which include minimizing direct contact with others, routinely cleaning polling machines or other equipment and practicing frequent hand hygiene.

For people interested in learning more about the Coos County Elections Office, visit its website or call 541-396-7610.

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