IRSD school board elections and polling place

Indian River High School in Dagsboro is often a polling place for local elections, as well as referendum votes within Indian River School District, as pictured here in May of 2019. It is among the sites for 2020 primary elections, in which absentee voting is being encouraged and polling sites limited, due to COVID-19 precautions.

This month, Delawareans can vote at any polling place in their county, although fewer overall locations will be available. This, along with a push for absentee voting, is part of the State’s plan to offer safer voting alternatives during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

This election was postponed twice, from April 28 to June 2 and then again to July 7, due to Delaware’s State of Emergency. Sussex County had already collected some absentee ballots in April, before the first delay, which are waiting patiently to be opened in July.

The presidential primary election is only open to voters registered as Democrats or Republicans. It will be Tuesday, July 7, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Democratic Party candidates include Joseph Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer have withdrawn).

Republican Party candidates include Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente and Donald Trump.

In this case, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are already the presumptive nominees for the two major political parties, both already having enough delegates from previous states’ caucuses and primary elections to unofficially secure their nominations.

Tuesday, Sept. 15, will be Delaware’s primary election for all other offices. Again, only registered voters from participating parties may participate in choosing their party’s nominee. The Sept. 15 primaries may include U.S. Congressional delegates, the governor, insurance commissioner and local representatives to the Delaware General Assembly and the Sussex County Council.

For the July 7 primary, the deadline has already passed to register to vote or change political party affiliation. However, Delawareans can still register before the state’s primary and general elections later this fall.

Eligible voters must be a Delaware resident; a U.S. citizen; at least 18 by the Nov. 3 general election; and registered to vote in Delaware.

“We want you to be assured that all of us in Elections are working to ensure a convenient, safe experience to you as a voter,” said State Election Commissioner Anthony Albence in an online video.

“You will be able to vote at any polling place in your county. You will not be required to go to your normal polling place,” said Albence.

Sussex County’s 24 polling places include: Selbyville Middle School; the Roxana fire hall; Lord Baltimore Elementary School in Ocean View; Indian River High School in Dagsboro; Millsboro Town Center (town hall); Zoar U.M. Church hall in Millsboro; Long Neck Elementary School; North Georgetown Elementary School; and the Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus, Jason Building, in Georgetown.

As a warning, voters will come within 6 feet of poll workers during sign-in and during the machine tutorial. Hand sanitizer will be available.

Voters should expect to wear masks and socially distance from each other by 6 feet. If indoor spaces fill up, voters may need to wait in line outdoors. To protect the public and poll workers, there will be face shields, hand sanitizer, rubber gloves and plenty of alcohol wipes for the machines.

Delaware does not require ID cards, but poll workers will need some proof of identity. Anyone who prefers not to show some ID must instead fill out a form before voting. Valid proof of identification can include a Delaware driver license or state ID card; U.S. passport; signed polling place card; signed Social Security card; signed vehicle registration; signed credit card, with photo; or a similar document that identifies the person by photo or signature.

Introduced in 2019, the state’s new electronic sign-in system keeps track of who has voted, to prevent people from double voting.

“I’m convinced it’ll work,” said Ken McDowell, the Sussex County director. “If I wasn’t, I would be telling you.”

For absentee voters who use the online portal, there are cyber-precautions, including an encrypted electronic ballot that produces a printout back at the office, with security protocols.

Handicapped-accessible polling places and voting machines are available. Voters who need assistance can inform the election officers at the polls. Voters with special needs may also bring someone with them to help in the voting process.

The impact of a pandemic

Sussex has 73 polling locations in a normal year, said McDowell. This July, it’ll be 24 sites. Each county exceeded the governor’s State of Emergency order for a minimum of six locations per county, in order to reduce lines and wait times.

McDowell encourages voters to consider voting by mail or absentee.

“That’s what it was all about with the COVID — we didn’t know how far it would go. If you would have told me in April it would kill 125,000” in the United States, he said, he wouldn’t have believed it.

The reduced number of polling locations also aligns with a reduction in poll workers. After working elections for decades, a number of senior citizens aren’t working them this year.

“I say, ‘I can’t hold this against you, you take care of yourself,’ because they have underlying problem. … We have enough, and all 24 sites are covered, but it was a stretch,” McDowell said. “What happens tomorrow, I don’t know, with this thing upticking now, and everyone watching 24-hour news — it’s scary, but we’ll be there. We got enough to carry on.”

This year, all voters are permitted to vote by absentee for the reason: “I am sick, or physically disabled,” even if they’re not symptomatic, in order to practice self-quarantine or prevent community spread of COVID-19.

The Department of Elections mailed paper absentee ballot applications to all registered Democrats and Republicans in the state, offering all such registered voters the opportunity to request an absentee ballot.

People are taking advantage of the change. Sussex alone has received at least 21,000 absentee ballots as of late June. That compares to the roughly 2,500 absentee ballots from the 2016 presidential primary, when a total of 41,000 Sussex Countians voted, McDowell said. The Sussex County office serves more than 175,000 registered voters.

Voting absentee is a two-part process, requiring an application or affidavit before the ballot itself can be obtained. Details are available by calling Sussex County Department of Elections at (302) 856-5367 or online.

Voters can find a “one-stop shop” online at (register to vote, update address or political affiliation, find polling locations and view sample ballots).

More maps, calendars, eligibility rules and candidate lists are online at (Sussex County) and (Delaware).

People can also contact the Department of Elections’ Sussex County Office at 119 N. Race Street, P.O. Box 457, Georgetown, DE 19947. The phone number is (302) 856-5367. The email addresses are (general information) and (absentee voting).

Due to COVID-19, mail-in balloting was approved by a majority vote of the Delaware General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. John Carney on July 1. With a similar process to absentee balloting, House Bill 346 is expected to implemented later for the 2020 state primary, general and special elections.

The school board elections on July 21 will abide by slightly different rules. Voter registration is not required, as usual. Absentee voting will be permitted. The Indian River School District only has a contested election in District 4 (covering parts of Frankford, Dagsboro, Millville, Ocean View, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island).

Staff Reporter

Laura Walter is an award-winning reporter on schools, environment, people and history. A graduate of Indian River High School and Washington College, she has rappelled off a building and assisted a magician, and encourages readers to act on local issues.