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Piedmont poll worker in Tuesday’s runoff tests positive for COVID-19, hospitalized

Hand of a person casting a vote into the ballot box during elections

A poll worker who worked during Tuesday’s runoff election in Piedmont, Alabama, later tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized, according to Piedmont Mayor Bill Baker. On Tuesday, 475 ballots were cast at that Calhoun County polling location. 

Baker discussed the matter in a post to his personal Facebook page and to the city’s Facebook page on Friday.

An update that needs to be shared: You need informing in order to be aware and safe. A poll worker who worked the poll Tuesday at the court location has tested positive for COVID 19. This poll worker has been hospitalized,” Baker wrote. “Legal advised us to notify the voters who may have voted at that voting site so that they might be made aware of this situation. We were advised to share this information on the City of Piedmont Facebook page and my personal Facebook page. All poll workers were wearing masks the day of voting. If you show any symptoms please get tested immediately.” 

During the runoff election Tuesday, 475 people cast ballots at Piedmont’s city court polling station, which is listed in the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office unofficial election results as the Piedmont fire station, which is connected to the court building. 

Attempts over the weekend to contact some of those who may have voted at that location were unsuccessful, but in comments on Baker’s post many expressed concern over the dangers of the situation. 

This virus is serious. Mayor please advise citizens to wear mask and social distance for the good of the community. It is time,” said one commenter. 

“Does this mean that all those who voted at that site should self quarantine for 14 days?” asked another. 

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Baker in a message to APR on Monday said the person was still hospitalized. 

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday issued a statewide face mask order, mandating that masks are to be worn while in public when within six feet of another person outside of one’s own household, while outside around groups of ten or more, and inside in a public spaces and on public transposition, with exceptions, according to the order.

Ivey cited the 1,183 deaths from COVID-19 statewide at the time, Ivey said, and said during her press conference that nine of the first 13 days in July saw daily case increases of more than 1,000. 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill made clear before the Tuesday runoff election that voters were encouraged, but not required, to wear masks at polling stations. 

A June 30 notice from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office stated that although Marshall strongly recommends voters and poll workers “follow CDC guidelines when in public places and behave in a manner that is respectful of poll workers and fellow voters, it is clear that state law does not allow for an individual’s qualification to vote to be contingent upon the wearing of a mask or face covering, respecting social distancing, using gloves, or having a temperature in a normal range.”

“While it can be ‘strongly recommended’ that an individual wear a mask, it cannot be required. In our state, we will continue to see that the right for every eligible Alabamian to vote is protected,” Merrill wrote in a letter to county election officials prior to Tuesday’s election. 

Merrill announced Monday that he had approved an extension to no-excuse absentee voting to include Aug. 25 municipal elections and the Nov. 3 general election. 

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Anyone wishing to vote by absentee ballot may check the box on an absentee ballot request for that reads “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED].” 

Dillon Nettles, a policy analyst at the ACLU of Alabama — one of several groups fighting in courts to ease burdens for voting in Alabama amid the COVID-19 pandemic — in a message to APR on Monday said that since April, ACLU of Alabama has called on Merrill to take the steps necessary to protect voters and poll workers.

“While we were pleased that Secretary Merrill provided the ‘medical’ excuse to voters who felt unsafe entering polling locations for the July 14th primary, an option which he has now also provided for upcoming municipal elections and the General Election, we are disappointed and remain concerned that other low-contact and modernized voting alternatives were not also put in place to lower the risk of infection,” Nettles said. “We have been a part of a chorus of advocates urging the Secretary to also consider curbside and early voting options to prevent unnecessary crowding at polling sites. In order to protect the health and safety of every voter and poll worker in Alabama during this pandemic, we need every option on the table.”

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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