As Tuesday's primary election looms, Rochester election officials are taking steps to ensure safety at polling places amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Using funds provided by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the city has developed a plan for voter and poll worker safety.
In total, $250,000 has been allocated to support Election Day operations for both the August primary and November general election.
The city, Olmsted County, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to encourage voters to consider voting by mail or by dropping ballots off at the county election center at 2122 Campus Drive SE as the safest options for limiting direct person-to-person contact.
While the city and county report that many voters are taking advantage of voting by mail using an absentee ballot, in-person voting remains an option.
The city reports the top priority for the federal funding related to the elections is to ensure voters who select the in-person option are safe. To achieve that, Rochester City Clerk Anissa Hollingshead and her staff have developed an Election Day COVID-19 Preparedness Plan to guide polling place operations.
“The health and safety of our community has been and continues to be our top priority. Equally important is ensuring every eligible voter who wants to vote is able to cast a ballot in the manner that works best for them," Hollingshead said. "Our community can be confident in our election process, including the steps being taken to keep our polling locations safe.”
Measures being taken include:
- All polling place locations were carefully evaluated, and where necessary, relocated for the remaining elections in 2020 to ensure space for adequate physical distancing throughout the voting process. Every voter should double-check their assigned polling location before voting on Election Day, as approximately a third of Rochester locations have shifted.
- Setup instructions have been customized for each voting location, clearly indicating how to set up voting equipment and supplies to ensure a minimum of 6 feet of distance at all points through the process, with appropriate markings and cues for voters.
- Where possible, separate entrances and exits for each polling location have been identified to ensure one-way foot traffic within the polling locations.
- Hand-sanitizer dispensers are being placed at entrances and exits to each voting area.
- In compliance with the executive order from Gov. Tim Walz, face coverings are required to be worn at all times in polling locations by election workers, voters, and any other visitors.
- Disposable masks will be available near the entrance to the polling place for any voters or other visitors to the polling location who do not have one with them.
- Election workers are being provided with face shields to layer over their face covering if desired for additional protection during their shift.
- Regular practices of cleaning and disinfecting have been implemented, including ongoing cleaning and disinfecting of work surfaces, equipment, materials and areas in the work environment, including restrooms, break rooms and voting stations.
- Voters will be offered a sanitized pen (or can bring their own).
- Voters can choose to vote curbside and avoid entering the polling location. Any voter experiencing any symptoms of illness or unable to wear a face covering is asked to utilize curbside voting to protect other voters and election workers.
Four seats for the Rochester City Council are on the primary ballot — the council president seat, as well as representatives for wards 2, 4 and 6.
The top two vote-getters Tuesday will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
In addition to the city race, Rochester residents will see a U.S. Senate primary on Tuesday's ballot, and some residents will vote in the primary to narrow the race for the Olmsted County District 5 seat.