To maintain COVID-19 distancing requirements, the Walla Walla County Elections Department will relocate to the pavilion at the county fairgrounds until after the upcoming election.

The move is scheduled for Oct. 12, according to County Auditor Karen Martin, who is responsible for administering elections in the county for all federal, state, county, municipal and special districts. From that date until after the election, all functions of the Elections Department will be conducted at the fairgrounds.

“Normally during a presidential year, we have a lot of traffic — people registering to vote, requesting ballot replacement and observers,” Martin said.

Ballots for the November general election will be mailed out on Oct. 14. Martin said that typically about 60% of ballots are placed in drop boxes, and the rest are submitted by mail. All ballot drop boxes will remain in their current locations.

Crucial to the move is getting all the technology in place to allow the department to do its work.

“The elections move is going to be a challenge,” said Chad Goodhue, the county’s information technology manager.

“We have a lot of prep work. We have high-speed internet there now, but because the elections office is so extensive in terms of its size and scope and what we need to do, it’s going to take probably a full week to get that set up and get ready for the walk-in ballots.”

The move will ensure that no one needing Elections Department services will have to stand out in the weather to maintain social distancing.

“The location allows us to make more space between work and processing stations,” said Martin, “as well as needed room for those that need to register to vote or need replacement ballots issued, and for observers.”

The pavilion also has room for designated separate entrances and exits and for voting booths to be set up to meet distancing requirements.

Goodhue and his staff must also assure the physical security of the technology services and election space, work that is being paid for out of the Help America Vote Act.

That law, passed in 2002, created mandatory minimum standards for states to follow in several key areas of election administration. The law provides funding to help states meet these standards, replace voting systems and improve election administration.

In the case of the move to the fairgrounds, this includes setting up for security to track people in and out of the data center and the elections space, which is a requirement of the Secretary of State.

Asked whether she has any concerns about observers and potential voter intimidation, Martin replied: “No. Our observers are given, and must sign, acknowledgement of the rules for observers. There are laws in place regarding voter intimidation and electioneering. I will be meeting with our sheriff in regards to a response plan if issues do arise.”