Record editorial: In unprecedented circumstance, Clerk’s Office sets a laudable example
It was yet another astounding twist in a year full of them.
On Monday, officials announced that the Summit County clerk and his staff were under quarantine due to a staffer’s exposure to COVID-19. That, in turn, meant they would not be able to process ballots on Election Day, leaving thousands of ballots untallied until the staffers were cleared to return to work.
Only in 2020.
Following the announcement, some residents expressed consternation with the decision to quarantine and delay the vote count given the importance of the Clerk’s Office’s role in elections. The source of much of the concern — the desire to learn results on Election Day — is understandable. But the frustration was misplaced.
In the face of an unprecedented circumstance, the Clerk’s Office made the right call, prioritizing safety over a more complete election night vote count. That decision looked only more wise on Thursday when officials announced that the staff member who came into contact with COVID-19 later tested positive.
Members of the Clerk’s Office were also bound by the responsibility of setting a proper example for the public by heeding the guidance of health experts. As county employees, it would have been hypocritical for them to disregard COVID-19 safety guidelines after the county has spent months urging residents to diligently follow them.
Fortunately, the other staffers tested negative on Wednesday and were cleared to return to work the next day (and we hope the other staffer gets well soon). Clerk Kent Jones indicated that his office would release a near-complete vote tally Monday, meaning residents and candidates will only have to wait an additional six days for the final results.
That’s a small price to pay, especially since every valid vote will ultimately count and there are only a couple of races that theoretically could be swayed by the roughly 8,000 outstanding ballots.
Critics of the decision to quarantine also must take into account the fact that there are always a certain number of ballots that are left uncounted on election night. That number can sometimes be significant, such as in 2018, when hundreds of ballots tallied in the days following Election Day nearly flipped the House District 54 result.
The reality is that not knowing the complete results of the election until days afterward is far from a crisis.
The delay was disappointing for everyone, from voters to the candidates themselves.
But by following COVID-19 safety protocols, the Clerk’s Office did the right thing. Rather than being frustrated at Jones and his staff, all Summit County residents should instead be giving them credit where it’s due.
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Our view: With lives still at stake, ensuring we don’t ease up on coronavirus restrictions prematurely is critical. It should be up to health experts, not politicians, to declare victory over the pandemic in our state.