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Political assemblies go online, in drive thrus amid pandemic

Posted at 3:15 PM, Mar 28, 2020

EL PASO COUNTY — As the stay at home order continues in Colorado, political parties in the state are learning to adapt when it comes to conducting assemblies ahead of the June primary.

The state legislature voted ahead of its temporary adjournment to allow county's to make changes to their assembly process to fit in with CDC guidelines for COVID-19.

In El Paso County, Democrats and Republicans made changes to their originally scheduled assemblies this weekend. Democrats opted for a virtual, video chat assembly and Republicans opted for a drive-thru assembly.

Republicans received criticism over continuing with a drive-thru option with the Governor's recent stay at home order. Chairwoman Vickie Tonkins said she sent out information to the party allowing those who felt uncomfortable or deemed "high risk" to have the option to submit their votes online.

"Virtual is great and I'm glad that a lot of people are doing it but we're using some of the same people and I thought well that's going to start getting overwhelming," said Tonkins.

The El Paso County Democrats offered the assembly through video conference for participants, as well as streaming the public event on the gaming app "Twitch" and Facebook.

Party Chair Electra Johnson says there wasn't a choice when it came to holding the assembly online.

"I think that is really irresponsible honestly," Johnson said about the Republican assembly, "I could care less about parties, we have elderly volunteers in the Democratic party."

Johnson says the party ordered numerous paper materials for the assembly that were quarantined for 48 hours to avoid any possible contamination.

"My primary goal is number one to keep our volunteers safe," said Johnson.

Some Republican Colorado House and Senate districts in El Paso County held their own assemblies online. Tonkins says she felt the drive-thru option would be more engaging for voters.

According to data from the Secretary of State's office, about 25-percent of registered Republicans in El Paso County are 65 years old or older, which is deemed "high risk" by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

"People are loving this," said Tonkins. "They're getting out of the house just a little bit, they're going to the grocery store, then stopping here, getting their ballots and going home."

At a press conference Friday, Gov. Jared Polis said election functions are critical government functions.

"We are not sacrificing our Democratic Republic for this virus or any virus," Polis said.