Primary elections: Escambia County voters, poll workers navigate COVID-19 precautions

The day of the primary elections was a little slower than typical for Sandra Savage, the clerk for Escambia County’s 14th Precinct at the Fricker Community Center and a 20-year veteran in poll working.

While the majority of voters opted for mail-in and early voting Tuesday, poll workers were working to keep those who did choose day-of voting safe during the coronavirus pandemic. At Savage’s precinct, everyone had to wear masks and poll workers sanitized pens and voting booths after each voter. 

“We ask the people, ‘Just be patient with us a minute as we clean because of COVID,'” Savage said. “It’s something new each time, but that’s what makes the job interesting,”

As of noon Tuesday, mail-in ballots accounted for more than 56% of voters cast in Escambia County, while early voting accounted for another almost 27%, according to the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections. In-person voting accounted for just 17.7%.

In the 2018 primary election, voter turnout looked much different, with more than 52% of those who cast a ballot doing so in-person. Mail-in ballots accounted for just less than 30% of the vote, and early voting was just under 19%.

Tiffany Latshaw, who voted Tuesday at Precinct 14, said she wanted to cast her ballot in-person to set an example for her children about the importance of local elections.

“I told them what I was going to do. My 4-year-old is always asking about who is Donald Trump and etc.,” Latshaw said. “He was like, ‘Wait, but you’re not voting today for that?’ And I said, ‘No,’ and we explained that and it’s kind of another little home school lesson.”

During the pandemic, Latshaw and her husband have discussed whether to stay in a bubble, away from others, or learn how adapt to doing things in a safe way.

Election guide: 2020 Primary: The Ultimate Guide to Escambia and Santa Rosa County races

“I saw a meme on Facebook the other day. It said if you can go into Target with a mask, you can go vote,” Latshaw said. “Everything was spaced out. It was clean. I signed with a Q-tip, which was genius. I threw it a way.”

Teri Whiteman, a Cantonment resident, voted Tuesday morning with her daughter Kinsley Tindall, 7, and her nephew, Cruz, 6, at Precinct 74 at the Escambia County Extension Office. She said she felt comfortable voting after seeing various precautions taken to slow the spread of the virus.

“I think it’s really important to voice who you want representing you, especially on a local platform,” Whiteman said, adding that her daughter and nephew both received children’s paper ballots to take home.

Maple Christian, another voter at Precinct 14, said she has voted regularly since she was 18. Now that she’s 65, one of her biggest concerns this election season was preserving funding for the U.S. Postal Service.

“I’m 65. That’s how I get my medicine. I can’t walk all the time. If it’s raining, I can’t walk,” Christian said.

Janice and Bill Boyer, who are 82 and 89, respectively, decided to vote in-person at Precinct 14 not necessarily because they were passionate about a particular race or issue, but rather because it is a tradition they have always valued. The couple have been married 61 years and Bill Boyer is retired from the U.S. Navy.

“We came out because it’s our right to vote, and if you don’t vote, you’ll lose it,” Janice Boyer said. “We’ve always cherished the right to come to the polls. For us, as long as we can do it, it’s worth the extra effort.”

Flo and Bill Dorman, a couple who voted at Precinct 74, said they feel more secure casting a ballot in person. They said it’s important to vote for candidates who align with their Christian conservative values.

“I’d rather be there, punched in, put it in (the ballot box). … You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Some things are important,” Flo Dorman said. “We don’t miss any elections.”

Madison Arnold can be reached at [email protected] and 850-435-8522.

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