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Crook County Clerk's Office staff making changes to move the primary election forward amid the COVID-19 outbreak

The COVID-19 outbreak has shut down many things, but the primary election will move forward in Oregon.

But voters should expect some minor changes, most of which are intended to adhere to social distancing mandates or prevent potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Ballots will not get mailed out until April 29, but changes are already under way to make sure the exchange of ballots throughout the process is as hygienically sound as possible. One such change will be made at the Crook County Library's ballot drop box. Typically, people must enter the library to access it, but since the facility is closed to the public, the clerk's office came up with a new plan.

"We have made arrangements with Buzzy (Nielsen), the library director, to be able to use the book drop and drop ballots in that," said County Clerk Cheryl Seely. "Then, we will make sure I have access to the building and will be able to go in and retrieve those ballots."

She said that the plan, like many things during the outbreak, is subject to change. It might become necessary to close the drop site entirely.

The clerk's office is currently closed to the public, but staff has come up with other ways to provide the typical in-person services necessary during an election. One option is to go online, find the clerk's office website and make the changes, but Seely acknowledges that some voters don't have that option, so the office created an alternative.

"Up until ballots go out, if people want to change their party or update their information, we have voter registration cards beside our door in the (courthouse) lobby," Seely said, "and we have a drop box right below it."

The deadline to make any changes before the primary election is April 28.

When it comes to concerns about the actual ballots themselves and whether they are contaminated, Seely said that the topic has been discussed. Specifically, county clerks throughout the state have discussed whether to advise against voters licking envelopes to seal them.

So far, no direction has been given by the state on that matter, although Seely did note that people do not have to seal the secrecy envelopes that get placed inside the main envelope when returning a ballot. She added that a machine seals the ballot envelopes that are sent out to voters, so none of them are licked by anybody.

Although no direction regarding lick-sealing envelopes has been given by the state, county clerks have already decided to make other changes to protect against potential coronavirus spread.

"As we are handling (ballots), we are taking all the precautions that we need to with gloves and disinfectants," Seely said, "and whoever is handling those ballots will have masks, just as a precaution."

Another potential change in the election process could occur when it is time to open Crook County ballots. Historically, that job has gone to an opening board comprised of a small group of retired residents. Since older people are at greater risk for health complications from COVID-19, Seely is uncertain how many, if any, board members will be available this primary.

"Barb (Pennington, elections deputy) and I are prepared to do the entire thing ourselves," she said.

Though the outbreak figures to change a few things in the election process, one aspect is not expected to change very much — voter turnout.

"Because we are vote-by-mail, everybody gets that ballot delivered to their house and they can stay home and vote," Seely said. "It's kind of a perfect thing to vote at home when you are quarantined."

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