In-person voting on primary day: ‘People are in fear that something will happen, so they don’t want to come out.’

Polling place in Tallahassee, FL on primary election day 2020. Credit: Diane Rado

In a typical election, the St. Louis Catholic Church on the north side of Tallahassee would have a line of people waiting to cast their votes.

But this year, during COVID-19, in-person voting has significantly decreased.

The clerk working, who wished to be referred to as Mrs. Boykin, has twenty years of experience in working local elections.

“It’s the pandemic, and that people are in fear that something will happen, so they don’t want to come out.” Boykin said.

“We normally have a lot of people at this precinct,” she said. “By at least 6:30 [a.m.], we already have a line of people.” She spoke to a Phoenix reporter at about 10:30 a.m., saying, that precinct usually “would have served, at least, 100-and-something people.”

With 10 years of working the Precinct 3467, she’s seen a noticeable drop of in-person voters.

“We’ve only had 60 people since seven o’clock,” she said.

The Phoenix spoke with the clerk Tuesday, as Leon County, Florida’s state capital, and counties across the state held the 2020 primary election for state and local elections, casting votes for candidates for Congress, the state Legislature, local boards and commissions and other positions.

Boykin said that this year, Precinct 3467 has a completely new set-up to ensure social distancing while voting. Each of the poll workers wore a mask, a plastic face shield, and rubber gloves.

“We do have shields and we do have masks. It’s, like, exhausting, it really is, to have this on and talking and having to do all this,” she said.

In fact, voters could not walk into the building without a mask on, and signs hung at each entrance to ensure they knew that. Each had to stand behind lines of tape on the ground, which were used to indicate six-feet between each voter.

Boykin said that these new precautions are standard across Leon County.

Not only do these precautions protect voters, but also the poll workers. However, some people did not feel safe working amid the pandemic, and several poll workers opted out this year.

“I had a lot of people call in that don’t want to work elections,” Boykin said, “so I had to call in new bodies to come work.”

Despite the new procedures, the lower voter turn-out, and risks of working through the pandemic, participating in local elections is very important to Mrs. Boykin.

“Growing up, I actually went with my mother to work [elections], and she said how important it was to go and get involved,” she said. “I love seeing people coming out to vote. Everybody has a right to come and vote, and I love that — just to see the people excited about voting.”

Boykin said the workers are doing everything they can to make a safe environment for everyone who comes out to vote.

“My people are scared, they’re scared, everybody is scared,” she said. “But we’re just praying that it works out because we love what we do. That’s why we came to make sure that people had a place to come out and vote.”

Around 11 a.m. at the Jack McLean Community Center on Tallahassee’s south side, voters were sparse and poll workers wore face masks.

The precinct was also marked off with tape, indicating 6-foot distancing requirements for voters.

There were several poll workers at the Family Worship and Praise Center, near Lake Ella in Tallahassee, but not everyone wore a mask inside the building. They did have plenty of hand sanitizer at the precinct and seemingly adhered to social distancing guidelines when arranging voting booths.

A poll worker at that location told a Florida Phoenix reporter to “tell your friends to come out and vote,” as very few voters were present around 1 p.m.

At about 2:30 p.m., with thunderclouds above and the start of rain, only a trickle of voters came into a community center at Lafayette Park to cast their votes.

Poll workers wore plastic face shields; the community center was almost empty.

Poll workers mentioned the large number of mail-in ballots, plus early voting ballots, which will impact the in-person voting turnout.

Recent figures show that more than 2.3 million Floridians had cast ballots amid a surge of mail-in voting.

And overall, Florida doesn’t really have one specific election day anymore — it’s more of a multi-week election episode. Early in-person voting began on Aug. 3, and local supervisors of election began sending vote-by-mail ballots to people who requested them on July 9.

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.
Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.
Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.