Primary voters will have their say — even with COVID-19 a lingering concern.

Face-masked Republicans and Democrats from all four Ridgefield voting districts will vote in-person at East Ridge Middle School on primary day, Tuesday, Aug. 11. The polling station will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“According to the Governor’s guideline, please wear a mask,” said Republican Registrar of Voters Wayne Floegel.

Worries about COVID-19 are being accepted as a valid reason to vote by absentee ballot this year, and an unprecedented number of voters have sought absentee ballots for the Aug. 11 primary, while the town has put out a special “drop box” to accept them.

COVID-19 concerns are also what prompted the Registrars of Voters — Floegel, the Republican registrar and Cindy Bruno, the Democratic registrar — to consolidate all in-person primary voting to the one location, East Ridge Middle School’s cafeteria, rather than the town’s usual three polling places.

“We have COVID protocols we have to follow as far as the number of people and distancing and masks,” Bruno said. “Wayne and I felt that would be easier to manage in one location.”

“With one location it makes the cleaning protocol much easier,” said Floegel. “Plus, ERMS has more room to spread out, better parking situation — and air conditioning. Who wants to sit in Yanity on a hot August day wearing a mask, gloves and a shield?”

He added, “We feel confident that it is not a lengthy ballot and one should be able to get through the process rather quickly.”

Republicans have two primaries to vote in: a hard-fought contest that will determine the Republican nomination for state senator, and the presidential primary. Democrats have only one primary, for the presidential nomination.

State senate contest

For the 26th State Senatorial District nomination Republicans have a choice between Kim Healy of Wilton, a certified public accountant (CPA) and the treasurer of the Wilton Library who is the convention-endorsed candidate, and William Duff of Bethel, a former state representative who has also served on Bethel’s Board of Selectmen and Board of Education.

The winner will face Will Haskell, the first-term Democratic incumbent in the 26th District, which includes Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton and parts of Westport, Weston, Bethel and New Canaan.

In the presidential primary Republicans will have three choices: Donald J. Trump, the incumbent president; Roque ‘Rocky’ De La Fuente, a California real estate developer; and ”uncommitted.”

Democrats in Ridgefield have only the party’s presidential primary, with four choices: former vice-president Joe Biden; Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; and “uncommitted.”

Only people who are registered as Republicans can vote in the Republican primary, and only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary.

As of July 31, Ridgefield had 18,493 registered voters: 6,497 were unaffiliated, 6,058 were Democrats and 5,598 were Republicans.

People can check whether they are registered in a party and eligible to vote in the primary by going to the town website www.ridgefieldct.org and then going to “government” near top left and, in the drop-down menu, clicking on “Registrar of Voters.”

Once on the Registrars of Voters’ webpage, clicking on “Am I registered to vote?” tab at the top of the list will produce an electronic form people can fill out, and the response will tell them whether they are registered to vote, any party affiliation they have, and what their usual polling place is — although for this primary the polling place for all Ridgefielders will be East Ridge Middle School.

Joining a party

People may switch party affiliation any time, but in order to vote in a party’s primary the switch must be made three months before the date of the primary — so it’s too late to switch and vote in next Tuesday’s primary.

However, currently unaffiliated voters who want to join a party and participate in the primary— or new voters just registering to vote — may do so up until noon on the day before the primary, which would be noon on Monday, Aug. 10, for the Aug. 11 primary.

For people with identification through the state Department of Motor Vehicles, like a Connecticut driver’s license, that can be done online through the Secretary of the State’s webpage — https://voterregistration.ct.gov/OLVR/welcome.do.

Mail in registrations must be postmarked by Thursday, Aug. 6, which is also the deadline for online registration.

Registering to vote or enrolling in a party may also be done in-person at town hall. Because of COVID-19, town hall is not routinely open to walk-ins, so it’s best to call ahead and make arrangements with the registrars to come in and register or enroll in a party. (The registrars may be reached at 203-431-2771 or 203-431-2772.)

During a July 28 League of Women Voters zoom forum on voting, the registrars gave assurances that in-person primary voting at East Ridge Middle School would be safe.

“We will ask people to wear masks when they enter the building,” Bruno, the Democratic registrar, said.

“We’re going through every precaution we possibly can — social distancing of 6 feet, we will be wiping down all the polling booths,” said Floegel, the Republican registrar. “...All of our staff will have preventative masks, shields if they choose to wear them, and rubber gloves.”

“East Ridge is large, plenty of parking, and it has enough room for social distancing — both waiting to vote and in the polling area,” Bruno added. “And if there ever needs to be a line, there’s an interior spot to line up to wait in front of the auditorium, and also outside, they have an overhang in front of the building — whether you need protection from sun or rain.”

Staffing

COVID-19 is also complicating the registrars efforts to staff the polling place.

“We did have several of our regular workers who chose not to work because of COVID,” Bruno said.

“As it stands right now, we are short only a few workers,” Floegel said. “We have a great mix of experienced workers and newcomers.

“Our number one priority, other than making voting available for any eligible voter, is safety for our staff and electors,” he said. “We have all of the personal protective gear needed to conduct an election in the time of COVID — masks, shields, rubber gloves, plexi-glass, sanitizing solution and social distancing…”

Many of the regular poll workers are senior citizens, who are considered more at risk to the coronavirus and COVID-19.

“We’ve encouraged workers to work a half day rather than a whole day,” Bruno said.

The registrars are figuring they’ll need about 55 people for the primary, and they’re trying to enlarge their pool of potential workers.

“We did reach out to a number of college and high school kids,” Bruno said.

In the November election, when voter participation is expected to be much larger than in the primary, one polling place won’t be adequate and the town will be using all three locations in November.

The primary was originally scheduled for April 28 but has been delayed twice — initially to June 2 and then again to Aug. 11 — all due to the continuing situation in Connecticut with the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes.

“We just ask that everyone is patient with the clerks and registrars office,” Floegel said. “This is the first time that our Secretary of the State has used a mailing house to mail out applications to every eligible primary voter and then a ballot to those that returned them. We are strongly encouraging you to leave plenty of time for the mail back your ballot or use the ballot drop box at town hall on the Bailey street entrance.”