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Gary Johnson: Voting is safe, but step wide in long lines this year

Gary Johnson: Voting is safe, but step wide in long lines this year

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I voted early on the first day of early voting. For the most part, I liked what I saw from the viewpoint of reducing the risks of viral spread. I think you can vote in person without a high risk of catching COVID-19 or the seasonal flu for that matter. Our county elections people are really trying hard to do this right, and it showed. I congratulate them on trying so hard to curtail risks to hardworking poll workers and dutiful voters. They have served us well.

Lines were long, in part because of physical distancing but mostly because turnout is high this year, which given concerns raised by both Republicans and Democrats (and Texas’ usual somnambulistic electoral participation) is a good thing. Expect to stand in line about an hour or more. I was there about 10:30 in the morning and I stood in line about three-quarters of an hour before actually stepping through the door. I had plenty of company: More than 5,150 McLennan County voters cast ballots that first day in a handful of locations. Another 6,737 county voters have gotten their mail-in ballots to the elections office.

Despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s failure to demand facial coverings in polling places during our continuing pandemic, nearly everybody I saw in line wore a mask. The only shortfall I saw was people not staying six feet apart. Most seemed content to keep three or four feet between themselves and fellow voters. Physical distancing got better closer to the door going in where marks on the pavement six feet apart indicated where each of us should stand.

Election staff disinfect your hands as you enter, also a good thing. Poll workers wear full face shields, which is the right thing for them to do, especially given that many tend to be grayer than some of the voters. They give you a pen with which to sign the voter roll; you keep or recycle the pen. They also offer you a pencil to work the dials and buttons on the voting machine; the pencil is also yours to keep.

Not many took advantage of this, but you can have your hands sprayed with disinfectant as you leave. I did see a few voters wearing disposable gloves, again the right thing to do if you’re at particularly high risk. I had some with me but didn’t really see the need to wear them despite my risky age.

All of this means you can vote in person (either during three weeks of early voting or on Election Day) with reasonable safety during the pandemic. You need not worry about whether the post office will deliver your mail-in ballot on time or the logistics of delivering your ballot to the one and only dropoff location for our county. You can instead just vote in person, sidestepping those problems (many of them courtesy of the governor and a federal appeals court).

I would like to see the spacing increased to a full six feet between those standing in line far from the door. No one is monitoring that. I would also like to see the in-public mask rule enforced. If this takes a patrolling law enforcement officer, so be it. These things are simply public health measures during what amounts to a plague.

Some may take issue with that sentiment, but it’s based on the hard science behind these rules. The mask or facial covering that a person wears is not so much to protect him but to protect those around him from anything he might be infected with. To think the presence or absence of a mask only affects its wearer is a conspiracy theory, not science. What we’d like to do is irrelevant; what’s relevant is all of us doing what we already know works, for the common good of all.

So go out and vote. It’s the duty of citizens in a representative democracy. Besides presidential, congressional and statewide races, this year’s general election ballot includes many city and school board candidates whose elections in May were postponed by COVID-19 concerns. There is work to be done.

Gary W. Johnson is a former cutting-edge aerospace defense engineer. He lives in McGregor.

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