Coronavirus may change elections, but will not stop them, Pate says

DES MOINES — Against a backdrop of a coronavirus pandemic, Iowa’s chief election official is adamant that “Election Day will be Election Day.”

“We hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,” Pate said Thursday before meeting with the county auditors who oversee local elections about being prepared, regardless of the virus.

“We’re always planning for tornadoes, for fire, for whatever may disrupt elections. This is an extension of those plans.”

Election officials have less than 80 days to prepare for the June 2 primary election.

Preparations may include making additional efforts to encourage Iowans to vote by mail to avoid crowded polling places, “especially if you’re in a high-risk groups for coronavirus,” Pate said.

“But the election will be that day,” he said.


Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, told colleagues Thursday that county auditors have concerns about the June primary.

“If you think about poll workers in your county, many of them are older people,” Bolkcom said. “Are they going to be able to recruit people to be poll workers? Are people going to feel comfortable doing that job? Are voters going to feel comfortable going to the polls?”

Bolkcom suggested the Legislature may want to give counties the authority to do all-mail ballot elections.


“We have a really important election this fall,” he said. “Should we think about the possibility of conducting all-mail ballot election this fall?”

If legislators want to make that option available, they should start work on it now, Bolkcom said, “because I’m not thinking we’re going to have a special session once we adjourn here in the next few weeks.”


Pate, president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, said many discussions are underway about the impact the coronavirus could have on elections.

Washington State, where a number of cases have been identified, has put together a package on how they are handling elections during the pandemic.

In states where there are primaries next week, officials are taking steps to ensure their early voting sites are as sanitized as possible and are encouraging voters to vote-by-mail.

In Ohio, the state has moved numerous polling sites out of nursing homes and other locations where there may be vulnerable people.

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