Edwin Harrison’s alarm sounded at 4 a.m. By 4 p.m., the maroon-clad Ashland Blazer graduate could be seen with gloves, a mask and a bottle of cleaner at Boyd County Middle School.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the last portion of his senior year. It completely altered Election Day as well.
“It’s certainly unique,” Harrison said.
Harrison was one of a number of poll workers who kept voting operations running smoothly throughout northeastern Kentucky on Tuesday.
Harrison was a rookie among a group of workers who’d logged a wide-ranging deal of experience at the polls.
John Mulvaney, Harrison’s AP government teacher at Ashland, offered extra credit for students who performed civic duties last semester. It got Harrison to thinking about the primary election originally scheduled for May 19.
The novel coronavirus changed that date to June 23.
“I thought this would be a great opportunity, and to learn more about the voting process,” Harrison said.
Harrison didn’t have the tag of judge, clerk or sheriff just yet, but he plans to do this again in the future.
“I was taught most of this in my AP class, but seeing it in action, and seeing people react to it was valuable for me,” he said.
Brenda Deskins, a sheriff, typically works at Hager Elementary, but this election featured just three polling stations in Boyd County — Boyd Middle, Poage Elementary and the Catlettsburg Senior Center.
“My Democratic representative called me early (one day) and I asked me if I would go to Boyd Middle School,” Deskins recalled, speaking behind a face shield.
Deskins said she initially didn’t plan to work, even after nearly two decades of doing so, if Debbie Jones halted her stint as Boyd County Clerk. Although Jones retired on April 1, Deskins decided to stick with it.
“Because I felt like it was my honor and duty to serve,” she said.
Deskins would’ve preferred more training for her and others, but she managed to handle her duties on Tuesday.
For Melissa Salyers, “The main difference I have seen today is that a lot of people are bringing in the absentee ballots they requested. But they are choosing today to vote in person, and that has been a little different than previous election nights.”
Salyers, who worked Tuesday at the senior center, said circumstances have made it a little harder for her to do her job.
“We have all the ballots here for all the different precincts,” Salyers said. “As we check voters in, we have to search these to make sure the voter gets the proper ballot. That has made it different, but I wouldn’t say too much harder.”
Salyers said the training was a little different, especially with the addition of the ePoll books.
“It (the ePoll) checks everyone in much faster, and we don’t have to go searching through books to find them. We just scan their license or search for their name, and it brings up their information. It will tell us if they have already voted, if they have moved, and all the information that is available. It has made it a lot easier. And this was an added part of the training this year.”
Salyers said the new ePoll has made things much easier, including being far easier to clean between voters than a regular book would have been.
With regards to health safety, Salyers said all of the poll workers are wearing PPE including masks, face shields and gloves, to keep both themselves and voters safe.
“It all is very clean and very safe,” Salyers said.
On a personal note, Salyers said she was working the polls because she believes in the right of voters to come in and cast their votes in person.
“And I wanted to make sure every voter had that right. It’s the way I cast my vote. And I don’t think the fear of a virus should prevent people from doing that. We have taken every precaution possible to make sure voters are safe,” Salyers said.
Poll workers weren't allowed to speak to the media in Greenup County, but County Clerk Pat Hieneman advised the primary went smoothly at the two polling stations.
“It went a lot smoother than in the last few weeks, where we were getting mail-in ballots out and receiving them,” she said. “It wasn't too bad.”
Noting the usual rush prior to typical work hours and afterward, Hieneman said she didn't receive any reports of major problems. At around 5 p.m, The Daily Independent observed a queue from the polling entrance at the old Raceland High gymnasium into the parking lot. It appeared to take a voter about five minutes to enter the polling station doors.
Army National Guard soliders from Olive Hill were posted at each station. Heineman stated they were posted to help enforce social distancing and sanitize the polling stations.
“We asked for their help after the state election board said they'd be available for us,” she said.
Masks and gloves were also provided at the entrance for each polling station for voters to use if they were so inclined.
Workers wore masks or face shields the county provided.
One East Carter Middle School worker, Debi Barnhill, spent much of her 12 hours disinfecting pens. “They made one of us a sanitizer,” she said.
Voters registered by presenting identification to clerks, who scanned bar codes into an iPad, and signed with their fingers. Janie Moore, who worked her first election at ECMS, saw some mild consternation over index-digit signatures.
“A lot of people complained about that,” Moore said. “One person said, 'Well, I don't think that's sanitary.' We do clean the screens; we’re doing the best we can.”
Moore wanted to work last November's gubernatorial election. Tuesday, she broke out some tonsorial humor.
“But this year, even with this gray hair, I’m one of the younger people among the poll workers,” Moore said.
Henry Culvyhouse, Charles Romans, Ray Schaefer and Aaron Snyder contributed to this story.