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The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and lingering concerns about ballot security heading into the 2020 presidential election pose unique challenges for local officials who oversee voting.

This year's presidential preference primary struggled as poll workers dropped out to avoid getting sick or spreading the virus. While the vote went off without major disruptions, expect a greater push for early voting and voting by mail for the August primary and the November general election.

Naples Daily News asked Collier County elections officials about the possible difficulties ahead. Here are their answers from an email exchange this week, with some minor edits for the sake of clarity:

Did you experience any glitches with the election that are related to the machines, the shortage of poll workers or concerns about coronavirus? This would include any lines at the polls, which are now a risk.  

We did not have any major issues with election equipment. As we’ve stated, we were short workers which caused for a long day for our teams out at the precincts, but we didn’t see any major lines or delays to the voting process.

Given that we may be in pandemic conditions for many months, what, if anything, can your office do to lessen the risk of people coming to the polls? For instance, could rules and procedures be changed to allow for more distance voting?

If this pandemic continues through the August primary, we will aggressively be pushing for voters to cast their ballot by mail. Voters can also request a Vote-by-Mail ballot and drop it off to one of our early voting locations during the early voting period.

Given that most poll workers tend to be older and potentially at more risk of coronavirus complications, what plans do you have for the August primary and the November general to prevent or mitigate hundreds of poll workers dropping out?

We will begin our recruitment process within the next few weeks and will have our new election worker orientations scheduled soon. Voters interested in getting involved can apply online at CollierVotes.com.

What, if any, concerns do you have about overall elections/ballot security heading into August and November? Do you have all the upgrades, technology, hardware you need? Is there anything you’ve asked the state for that you are still waiting on? If anything goes wrong in your county in November, what do you think it would be, and how are you preparing for that? 

This pandemic is something we’ve never seen before in regards to elections. Just as we do after every election, we will be conducting a review to see what we can do to improve for future scenarios.

Beyond that, we are always on guard for hurricane season and any interruption that could come during a natural disaster. We have a COOP plan (continuity of operations plan) in place to help us through those challenges.

Has your office been subject to any security breaches/phishing attempts in the days and weeks leading up to this year's presidential preference primary?

We are not aware of any cybersecurity issues.

What, if anything, is being done to address the voting rights of college students who were suddenly sent home and unable to vote at polling places near campus? How many votes among this population were lost? Are there statistics on how many college students register to vote where they go to school vs. their hometowns?

We cannot provide a direct answer on this because we don’t have data on students who go to college here. We would need to know how many college students residing in Collier are registered to vote in our county or even in the state of Florida.

Follow this reporter on Twitter: @FrankGluck

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