New election head happy with process, despite challenges

By Greg Oliver

Courtesy The Journal

PICKENS — Travis Alexander was hired in May as the new Pickens County director of registration and elections, tasked with working with a completely new election commission amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting everything, including elections.

With the recent State House runoff elections marking the second primary election in the past two weeks, Alexander said he is pleased with how things went as he looks ahead to the presidential election in November.

“The poll workers were able to process voters through the COVID pandemic, so I think everything went smoothly,” Alexander said after the primary runoff results were completed. “We got out about the same time as last time having 42 precincts but, again, not having as many poll workers, I think everything went well.”

Alexander spent 12 years with the Greenville County Voter Registration and Elections Office prior to accepting the Pickens County position. The position opened up when longtime director Rodney Allen submitted his resignation in March, followed by the remaining five members of the county election commission. Two other commission members had submitted their resignations in February and mid-March. A new elections commission was formally sworn in during late April.

As if that weren’t enough, an influx of absentee ballots and the decision by many longtime poll workers not to participate in this election cycle for fear of COVID-19 posed additional challenges for election officials. Health and safety protocols, including social distancing, were also required at polling places.

For example, Alexander said poll workers this year have been required to ensure that voters follow the 6-foot social distancing measures. Workers are required to wear a face mask or shield when close to voters inside the 6-foot area. Voters were also given a swab stick to make selections on the voting screen, while workers periodically cleaned areas inside the polling site that may have had direct contact with a person’s hands, as well as frequently washing hands and using hand sanitizer throughout the day.

Alexander sought additional poll workers as late as May, with training limited to primarily online due to COVID-19. But the director feels the experience, though daunting at times, proved beneficial.

“I think a lot of the poll workers got a little system in place as far as checking in, as far as processing voters and even though a lot of our poll workers haven’t had the in-person training, they’ve had the online training,” Alexander said. “I think we had good enough clerks out there that were able to teach and train.

“With this low turnout, we had several voters who had never seen a new machine. Hopefully, that’s going to help out in November, where at least most people have seen machines, poll workers are going to be experienced and I think everything’s going to run as smoothly as it is now.”