How Hamilton County ballot counters stayed safe during COVID-19 pandemic

Board will certify results Wednesday
Posted at 6:11 PM, Nov 17, 2020

NORWOOD, Ohio — By noon Wednesday, Hamilton County elections officials will certify the results they've spent the last two weeks tabulating. But what is already a laborious task under normal circumstances this year required even more planning and care.

"This would have been almost impossible to do if we were still in our downtown (Cincinnati) building," said Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Sherry Poland.

Despite the elections office's new, much larger location in Norwood, the process of counting provisional ballots itself can seem antithetical to the anti-COVID-19 measures the nation has come to know over the last nine months of the pandemic: masks and 6 feet of social distance.

Poland said provisional ballot counters spent the last two days spaced out across two separate rooms, sitting at tables spaced 6 feet apart equipped with plastic shields to count roughly 11,000 provisional ballots -- the last ballots counted in Hamilton County this election cycle.

Before getting to the provisionals, counters spent the week prior working to certify the rest of the ballots cast on or before Nov. 3.

In those nine days, Poland said her team saw zero coronavirus cases.

She credits the precautionary measures put into place and the team heeding caution.

This election wasn't the team's first rodeo: March's prolonged primary took place in the earliest weeks of the pandemic and was the county's first mail-in-only election.

As the state shut down, Poland called back staff working from home and hired extra bodies at a time when they did not understand how long the virus lived on surfaces like mail.

"That was difficult, when everybody was staying at home. I think we all wanted to stay at home with our families, too, but we took an oath. We had a job to do," Poland said. "Our staff has adapted. As I said, we've been doing this since March, so we sort of all know the drill."

By November, Poland said, counters grew comfortable behind shields, wearing masks, and working more spread out with longer hours. The result should mean election results delivered on time.

"I am grateful every day that we get closer to finishing that count so we can spread out our staff, even when we get back to our normal day-to-day operations," Poland said.

The board of elections will meet twice Wednesday morning: once in the morning to give permission to count provisional votes, and then again at noon to certify the results.