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Registrar ready for November

Isle of Wight County is offering early, in-person voting, encouraging residents to cast ballots by mail and preparing to conduct the Nov. 3 general election with social distancing and sanitizing measures in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Local election officials have had two recent opportunities to perfect their approach for November — the Smithfield town elections in May and the June primary. Both voting days went smoothly, according to Lisa Betterton, the county’s registrar. In both cases, Betterton said she had “more than enough poll workers” and plenty of face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant and face shields.

But turnout for the June primary was low, with 2,656 voters casting ballots on Primary Day and 135 absentee voters. As of July 21, Betterton said Isle of Wight had 29,024 registered voters. In the 2016 presidential election, 21,149 people cast ballots, or 76% of those registered.

Looking ahead, “we are anticipating a huge turnout for the Nov. 3 general election,” Betterton said. “Social distancing will be a real challenge with the large number of voters. We are well prepared with (personal protective equipment), however, to establish social distancing.”

In addition, “we will, no doubt, have longer lines than we normally would. We are encouraging voters to vote absentee by mail or in person at our office. This will decrease the number of voters coming to the polls on Election Day.”

Early voting will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, starting Sept. 18. Two in-person Saturday voting sessions will also be offered from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 24 and Oct. 31. Voters do not need to provide an excuse, and no application is required for early in-person voting, which ends Oct. 31. Early voters must give their name and address and present an acceptable form of identification.

The deadline to register to vote or to make changes to an existing registration is Oct. 13. Voters who wish to vote by mail may apply to do so online at the Virginia Department of Elections website. The deadline to apply for a mail in ballot is Oct. 23.

In June, the state announced that it provided $9 million in federal CARES Act funding to prepare for the November elections. The department also provided $1 million in personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies using state resources for May’s local elections and CARES Act funding for the June primary.

Isle of Wight’s share of the $9 million state election-related funding was $58,458, according to Andrea Gaines, a spokeswoman for the Department of Elections. Gaines said the money may be used for expenditures related to protecting the health and safety of poll workers, staff and voters during the election. The funding can also be used to cover expenses related to increased demand for absentee ballots, such as printing, postage and temporary employees. CARES Act funding can also be used for voter outreach, such as public service announcements.

In some communities, election officials have reported poll workers and volunteers have stepped down due to concerns about being exposed to the coronavirus. But Betterton said that hasn’t been an issue in Isle of Wight.

“I have had three elections in four months, and I’ve had less than five (out of currently 135) that weren’t willing to work the polls because of COVID-19,” Betterton said. “Several new poll workers have signed on this year and I am always looking for more, especially in the southern end of the county.” For presidential elections, about 150 people work the polls.

Betterton lauded the support that the county’s high school students provide. Students who work as pages at the polls on election day often receive extra credit from their government class teachers; students who are 18 can work as paid poll workers. She also praised Smithfield-based information technology company VaughnTech.

“Three of their technicians spend Election Day from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. making runs to all the precincts addressing any technical problems that may arise with the voting equipment and electronic poll books. They have been working for me since 2016 and I cannot say enough good things about them.”

Betterton said the county’s poll workers, precinct chiefs and assistant precinct chiefs train extensively to respond to any issues that may arise on Election Day. She expressed confidence that voters will have a good experience this fall.

“This will be my fourth presidential election, and I am confident that my staff, the poll workers, and VaughanTech will rise to the occasion and do a great job,” she said.

Anyone who is interested in working or volunteering on Election Day may contact Betterton at (757) 365-6230 or email her at lbetterton@iwus.net.