Pandemic prompts safety precautions at polling places

The Cherokee Nation Election Commission plans to roll out pandemic-related safety measures during the tribe’s 2021 election cycle. 

TAHLEQUAH – Pandemic-related safety precautions that will affect both poll workers and voters are planned for this year’s Cherokee Nation general election.

“We’re proceeding like it’s going to be still a pandemic whenever June hits,” Election Commission Administrator Marcus Fears said. “We’re working on procedures for the precincts. A lot of those are going to be for our precinct workers who are going to be doing cleanings, wiping things down and making sure everyone has masks and things like that.”

In-person voters will be required to wear masks during this year’s general election, per the EC, which is following a mandate set by Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. for tribally operated properties.

“We’re utilizing still Chief Hoskin’s executive order on that unless that ever were to become null and void,” Fears said. “So we’re doing masks and social distancing. We’ll have ‘6 foot’ signs and ‘wear your mask’ signs on the door. We’re trying to keep everything spaced where we don’t have everybody on top of each other.”

The EC has been honing its COVID-19 safety list since last year in anticipation of the June election. According to the EC, precinct workers will help keep polling locations clean for voters.

“They’re definitely going to have a big task in making sure everything is safe and sanitary,” Fears said.

The plan is to clean voting surfaces as often as possible.

“There will be some places where it’s not hard to do,” EC Chairwoman Shawna Calico said during a December discussion. “There will be some places where it might be hard to do because they may have 200 or 300 voters there. But I think they need to do the best they can at making sure those areas are clean between each voter.”

Safety materials expected for the election include plastic tabletop shields, face shields, masks for workers and voters who show up without them, gloves for precinct officials, social distancing signs, disinfectants and other cleaning supplies.

There will also be safety-related changes on election night as precinct ballots get funneled to the EC office in Tahlequah.

“Whenever we check in our precincts, we’re not going to have just everyone come in at once,” Fears said. “We’re going to have to do it two or three at a time based on occupancy. We’re going to have them all wait in their car.”

The tribe’s 2021 general election is scheduled for June 5, a Saturday. If needed, a runoff election will be held July 24, also a Saturday.