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As hundreds of poll workers quit, S.C. in-person voters to use Q-tips on machines

The state plans to have voters use Q-tips on state's voting touch screens and provide protective gear to poll workers

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Richland and Lexington county election directors said they've lost hundreds of poll workers for the June primaries due to coronavirus fears.

The lack of workers and unavailability of some traditional polling locations could lead to fewer polling places and election day confusion.

Lexington County Elections Director Mary Brack told WLTX over the phone Wednesday more than 50 poll workers have said they will not work for the June 9th primaries.

“Oh my gosh, we've lost one of our big precincts her in Lexington. Lexington Four, that's a big precinct, that whole crew left,” Brack said.

In neighboring Richland County, interim Director Terry Graham said they have had more than 300 poll workers say they will not participate in June.

“Catastrophic,” is how Graham described the cancellations, adding he’s never seen this many workers back out before an election in his nearly 11 years of experience.

However, Graham and Brack said they are preparing their counties to vote anyway, as the June primaries are still scheduled as normal.

“We have the six feet markers on our floor, and then once you're finished at the counter, you'll be directed over to the voting machine where you'll be given like a Q-tip if you want to use to mark on the ballot marking device,” Brack said about new pandemic voting procedures.

The State Election Commission (SEC) and Graham said they also are encouraging voters to use Q-tips on the state’s new touch screen voting machines.

Richland County received it's first box of Q-tips in a shipment in recent days.

The Commission is also urging voters to check registration and polling locations before voting in person to cut down on wait times and confusion. Due to a lack of poll workers and potential polling place shortages, voting locations might change across the state.

In the meantime, the SEC is asking anyone who's eligible, under the state’s 19 criteria, to vote absentee by mail. Coronavirus nor pandemics are currently a valid reason to request absentee nor does there appear to be a plan to add them to the state’s exemption list before June 9th.

Chris Whitmire said they'll do what they can to protect poll workers across the state during early absentee in-person voting and election day.

RELATED: June 9 primaries to be held as planned with COVID-19 precautions in place

RELATED: Elections scheduled for May 5, 12 in South Carolina postponed

“Providing masks, gloves, face shields, hand sanitizer, sneeze guards, q-tips for voters to make selections on the touch screens, we're providing all these materials. We're also providing training to poll managers on how to apply social distancing techniques at the polling place,” Whitmire said.

Due to the shortages, Lexington County, Richland County, and the State Election Commission are asking for poll worker volunteers. If you’re interested, click here.

To vote absentee by mail, voters must request an absentee application by mail, email, phone call, or through SCVotes.org. To request an absentee ballot, click here.

But, nevertheless, polls will open on June 9th for anyone who wants to vote in-person.

“If you have a mask wear it. We can't require voters to wear masks at the polling place, but if you have one, we ask that you wear it for your protection and the protection of the managers. Managers are wearing masks, and they'll be wearing masks for the protection of voters. And voters can do the same thing to help protect their fellow voters and the managers,” Whitmire added.

So far, more than 48,000 people have requested absentee vote by mail ballots. In 2018, the primaries had 60,606 absentee in-person and by-mail requests combined, with just 18,870 absentee vote-by-mail.

Voters 65-years-old or older, voters with illnesses or special needs, caregivers, workers, and those going on vacation are just some of the eligible groups under South Carolina absentee voting law.