On Tuesday morning, voters lined up across five polling locations in Teton County, just like in any Election Day. But make no mistake, this year has been an unprecedented test for county officials. More than 11,000 residents voted early or by mail—that’s close to the total number of people who voted in the 2016 general election. And local measures to ensure voter safety during COVID-19 prompted a lot of planning.
Maureen Murphy has only been Teton County Clerk for four months, but she says she’s been busy beyond her expectations. Election Day is the culmination of weeks of work. Just as in previous years, today there are lines of same-day voters in Jackson, Wilson, and Alta, but she anticipates they will be shorter than in year’s past because so many people—more than 70 percent of registered voters—already cast their ballots.
“Honestly, Teton County’s never seen anything like this insofar as early turnout,” Murphy said. “It’s great. It’s the trend that we’ve seen across the nation.”
That so many people voted early helped election officials like Murphy to ensure adequate spacing and public safety at polling locations. And that’s despite increased numbers in both registered voters and coronavirus cases countywide. At Teton County Administration building, where early voters cast their ballots, large yellow dots on the ground marked where people should stand, six feet apart. That safety measure will continue through today. Meanwhile, people with COVID symptoms or those under quarantine or isolation orders should stay in their cars. There will be signs at each polling location with a number they can call to get help with voting.
About 60 volunteer election judges will be stationed countywide, making sure everything runs smoothly. And in a year where election integrity has been in the national spotlight, Murphy feels fortunate to be in Wyoming, where voter suppression and fairness don’t appear to be a major issue.
“I feel very secure in our system as well as the rest of the state because we have surveillance on our absentee boxes, the drop off box,” Murphy said. “I mean, we have cameras everywhere in our election room that I can see. So, I’m very, very secure in the way we do it.”
Absentee and early votes are sealed and locked in a room until after polls close. And for every task that needs to be done on Election Day, there will be more than one election judge in the room. Usually, it will be one person from each political party as an extra precaution. Janelle Conlin is one such election judge. And this year, she was motivated to volunteer for the first time.
“I was seeing reports that nationwide there was going to be a shortage this year of election judges because of COVID-19,” Conlin said. “So I just felt like I should do my part to try and make sure that there were enough volunteers working so we can have the same number of polling locations open up here.”
Usually, poll workers are older retirees, but this year, many of those typical volunteers are staying home because they’re more vulnerable to developing complications from COVID-19. So new judges needed to step up, and Murphy says, there was more community interest than ever. Conlin inspects health care facilities and nursing homes for a living, and feels very safe at polling sites. She says she feels confident that the county is taking necessary precautions to keep polling lines safe.
“We will be wearing masks, lots of hand-washing, lots of cleaning throughout the day,” Conlin said.
There will also be plexiglass partitions between voting booths, as per CDC guidelines. One thing Conlin can’t do, however, is turn away voters who aren’t wearing masks. And she says that’s OK.
“I mean, I do think masks should be worn,” Conlin said. “However, I think, with this job, it’s not really our duty to turn anyone away, that we’re there to make sure they vote. And so we’ll make sure they vote.”
Conlin will be stationed at the Teton County Library today, but she’s not sure exactly what her duties will be. She says the term “election judge” seems extremely serious, like she’s there to police the whole process. But really, she’s just there to help out, and to play a small part in maintaining a right that’s baked into being a U.S. citizen.
“I think voting is a right that we should all exercise. I think that there’s other people in other countries that don’t have that right,” Conlin said.
Many voters in line to cast their ballots last week mirrored Conlin’s idealism and passion for voting. Jackson resident Nicole Myers has been voting for years, but says she’s never seen the country so divided. “I think this is going to be one of the most important elections of our lifetime. I want to it’s important that I’m part of it,” she said.
Michael Bills also lives in Jackson, and cares nationally about civil unrest and racial justice. Locally, he’s worried about housing issues—he’s lived in the valley more than 20 years, but says he doesn’t have stable housing.
“You can’t really talk if you’re not voting,” he said. “That’s your voice, and if we’re gonna change things or make things better. It’s up to us, not up to anybody else.”
National results are likely to take time, but Myers and Bills will have some answers on local races later this evening. Murphy says she will likely begin counting the ballots around 7:30 tonight. If everything goes well, she will have results by 9 p.m.
The polls are open today until 7 p.m. Voters have five locations to cast their ballots: Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center, the Teton County Library and Alta branch, the Old Wilson Schoolhouse, and Teton County Weed and Pest. If you’re not registered to vote, no problem. Register today at the polls with your address and social security number.
Stay tuned for updates throughout the day from KHOL.