With the primary election coming up on June 2, Chief Clerk of Lebanon County’s Bureau of Elections and Voter Registration Michael Anderson told the county commissioners this week that voters won’t be mandated to wear masks to polling places, but they will be encouraged to do so.
“I won’t take away someone’s right to vote if they don’t want to wear a mask, but I am encouraging everyone to wear a mask,” Anderson said, referring to any type of face covering that blocks droplet and aerosol transmission of respiratory diseases like COVID-19.
All poll workers will be wearing masks, Anderson said.
“I implore people to wear a mask,” Anderson said. “Remember the mask I wear protects you and the mask you wear, protects me.”
Poll workers are there to serve the community, Anderson said, so it seems only common courtesy to wear a mask to try and protect them, especially since the process of voting should only take a few minutes.
Polling places will have some masks available for voters, but their supply is limited, Anderson said.
Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz (D) said her volunteer organization Women Working Behind the Scenes has sewn and distributed more than 8,000 masks, and delivered 750 to various polling precincts for election day.
“It’s a precaution that we feel is very important,” Litz said.
It was noted that state Rep. Russ Diamond (R-102) is telling the public they don’t have to wear a mask to vote.
“I don’t even know why Diamond is saying that,” said Commissioner Bill Ames (R). “I personally am encouraging everyone who goes to vote to wear a mask.
“On Friday, when we made the decision to go from red to yellow, we were anticipating that everyone would follow CDC guidelines, including masks and social distancing,” Ames continued.
Last week, the commissioners voted two to one (with Litz dissenting) to declare Lebanon County to be in the “yellow phase,” in order to increase the number of businesses allowed to open.
At the time, the incidence of COVID-19 cases in the county was more than twice the allowable number for the state to change from red to yellow. (As of Thursday, May 22, the gap has been reduced by nearly 70%, with Lebanon County currently tracking at 72 new cases over the last 14 days per 100,000 residents compared to 119 on the day the vote was taken – the state’s target is 50.)
Solicitor Dave Warner said the mask issue wasn’t a situation they wanted to get into for voting day.
“There are other ways to vote, too,” Warner said. “We might have a gentle reminder at the polls, but other than that, we don’t want to discourage people from voting.”
This coming Tuesday, May 26, is the deadline for applications for mail-in or absentee ballots, Anderson said.
Interest has been running high for mail-in voting, Anderson said.
“We have had an overwhelming number of applications just in the past day or two and we will get those ballots out to you,” Anderson said.
To date, the county voting bureau has received 13,275 requests for mail-in ballots, Anderson said, and more than 4,000 ballots have been received.
All ballots are due in the voting bureau by 8 p.m. on Election Day, June 2, he said.
Anderson attended the commissioners meeting to get their approval to publish a notice in local newspapers alerting the public to the upcoming election.
The notice will give general information about the election, inform voters of the Democratic and Republican contenders and where to vote in the county. (See the full notice at the bottom of this article.)
Recruitment of poll workers is going well, due to a good response from the community, Anderson said.
“We’re still taking names if we need last-minute replacements,” Anderson said.
Commissioner Chairman Bob Phillips (R) praised Anderson and his staff for the work they’ve been doing to prepare for the primary election.
“For the past few months, it’s been [voting bureau personnel] first in for the morning and last out, plus other departments have chipped in to help. We are very grateful,” Phillips said.
The commissioners also received an update on the Feeding the Frontliners program that had been approved last month when the commissioners pledged $25,000 to have meals that were prepared in local restaurants to be delivered to health care workers and first responders. The commissioners were told that nearly all the funds have been dispersed to local restaurants and that a financial breakdown was forthcoming.
“I’m just glad they’re doing this, because they’re trying to get through a very rough patch right now,” Phillips said
The funding came from the county hotel tax that is typically used to help promote Lebanon County tourism through the organization Visit Lebanon Valley as well as other causes.
Read More: Visit Lebanon Valley, virtually
In other business, Jeff Davidek, Mark Gensheimer, and Harish Aiyar, investment managers for CS McKee, discussed the economic future of the county with the commissioners in regards to the county employee retirement fund.
Aiyar is the healthcare portfolio manager for McKee and recently wrote an article titled “COVID-19; A Path Forward.”
Aiyar said the country has been inundated with information about the coronavirus, with much of the information contradictory.
“It is a very fluid situation, but considering where we were, I think we’re in a better place now,” said Aiyar. “We know how to treat someone with this disease now.”
An effective vaccine is the best goal, Aiyar said, but while “tremendous work” has focused on creating a vaccine, that is not in the near future.
“I don’t think we’ll be having a vaccine this year,” Aiyar said. “The first [criterion] is that it has to do no harm … but there is hope, since several companies are working on a vaccine.”
With jobless claims spiking into the millions, just how deep the economic setbacks will be is yet to be seen, Davidek said.
“You’ve asked me to comment on the future market, but it’s difficult to give you a predictable outcome,” Gensheimer said. “The past ten weeks certainly have been unprecedented and with unemployment over 20 percent, it’s hard to predict how turbulent things will be.”
In another matter, the commissioners approved a HUD loan deferral for Boscov’s and approved a grant modification for the future Beach Run Apartments in Bethel Township.
The commissioners had already approved the affordable homes building project at an earlier date.
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during previous election cycles. Ames Home Services is a current advertiser on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here. Additionally, David Warner has a financial interest in the ownership of LebTown’s parent company Lebanon Publishing Company. He has no involvement in editorial operations, including this article.