NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry is moving the scheduled April election to August. During the March 23 City Commission meeting, commissioners grappled with the best way to proceed with the scheduled April 14 municipal election in light of the Covid-19 virus.
Although the City has urged people to request vote by mail ballots this year, City Clerk Judy Rice said that only 25 people have chosen to vote in that manner so far.
Safety measures identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding slowing the spread of the Corona Virus focused the City’s attention on how to adequately protect citizens who show up to vote at the polls. Options to move the polling location to a larger facility and to establish six-foot wide separations between voters waiting in line were discussed, but not pursued.
In addition, he Alachua County Stay-at-Home Order issued on Monday, March 23 significantly limits candidates’ ability to meet with voters. Mayor Jordan Marlowe said he had asked candidates not to go door-to-door to visit with voters at this time.
After careful deliberation and discussion on possible alternative dates in June or August, as well as consideration of proceeding with the April 14 election date, commissioners voted to move the election to the second Tuesday in August. Incumbent Commissioner Monty Farnsworth abstained from voting on the election date to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
Mark Clark and Walt Boyer, both of whom have already qualified, as well as the sitting commissioners, said they believed the Aug. 11 date would be less costly to the City in terms of financial expense and public safety.
Normally, the County Supervisor of Elections trains volunteers to act as poll workers. Many who have served in that capacity in the past are retired citizens, some of whom would be at high risk. With the threat of the Corona Virus many who normally volunteer to serve have decided to stay at home. Due to the lack of normal County-provided poll workers, the City would be required to provide their own people.
A suggestion that City employees could be asked if they might want to volunteer to serve in that capacity was raised. The City Attorney suggested that employees might feel obligated to volunteer. This option would also cost the City more as they would have employees out for an eight-hour training session one day and would also be required to be at the polling location for 10-12 hours on April 14, which would mean overtime.
Although Alachua County may well still be in the grip of Covid-19 in August, the extension of time will allow the City to develop additional action plans. Another benefit of extending the election to August is that the County Supervisor of Elections will be training their own poll workers for the August election date, which alleviates the need for the City to address that issue.
Commissioner Rocky McKinley originally agreed to serve until the April election. Mayor Marlowe said he had asked McKinley if he would stay on to serve if Commissioners decided to change the election date. He said he would remain in his position until a new commissioner is elected.
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