How to vote safely in-person
With Election Day about two weeks away, many Americans are considering how they will cast their vote in the upcoming presidential election. But with COVID-19 cases on the rise nationally, you might be concerned about how to vote safely if you’re going in person, whether you’re voting early or on Nov. 3. Here are some things to think about.
Is it safe to vote in-person on election day if I’m no longer able to obtain a mail-in ballot?
No matter what your situation is, it is important to be mindful of the risks and to take steps to mitigate them. Each situation is going to be different and should be guided by the answers to questions such as how much COVID-19 activity is in your area, the practices at the polling places and your personal health risks.
No matter what local COVID-19 test positivity rate is in your area, it is essential to adopt the necessary safe practices to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. As we have learned from this pandemic, people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, obesity, those above 65 years of age and those with weak immune systems from cancer, certain medications or transplants are at higher risk of getting very ill or dying from the virus. For those who fall into these groups, it is essential to take all the right steps and timing to avoid standing in long lines. People with physical disabilities should also consider what standing in long lines might mean for their health and plan appropriately. This may mean searching for locations with shorter lines, or voting during times when the lines are less likely to be long.
If I am planning to vote in-person, what steps can I take to keep myself safe?
No matter what the practices are at the polling places, there are universal steps one can take to reduce one’s likelihood of contracting the virus. These include:
- Maintaining at least a 6 feet distance from the next person.
- Wearing a mask.
- Washing your hands or using a hand sanitizer with over 60% alcohol before and after contact with surfaces.
- Choosing a low-traffic time to vote. Most polling places see longer lines in the mornings before people head to work, or during midday lunch breaks, and again at the end of the workday.
- Review the instructions for voting before going to the voting place in order to reduce the time spent at the site.
- Bringing your own black ink pen or stylus for electronic voting. (NOTE: You should check with the staff at the polling place whether you are able to use your pen during the voting process)
What should I look for that would signify an un-safe situation at my polling place?
- Before going into the polling place, it is a good idea to get a general feeling for how long the indoor wait times are, as well as whether there is appropriate practice of social distancing.
- Many polling stations have plexiglass barriers between polling booths. This adds another layer of protection for the voters and staff.
- Polling stations with separate entry and exit points help minimize the potential for crowds to form in the spaces.
- Avoid voting in a high-risk facility such as a skilled nursing facility or other congregate living facilities if possible.
What additional reminders or safety considerations would you share with voters before in-person safely?
- It is important to remember to stay home if you are sick or have recently come in contact with a person recently diagnosed with COVID-19, to avoid infecting others. Remember to cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow. This should be followed by washing your hands with soap and water or using an appropriate alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- It’s possible you may be asked to remove your mask to verify your identity. If that is the case, use a hand sanitizer before and after touching the mask. It is a good idea to bring an extra mask in case the mask straps break, or the mask becomes visibly soiled.
- Remember that to be effective, masks must cover both the nose and mouth. Masks primarily help by protecting other people. Wearing masks with exhalation ports unfortunately puts others at risk since all the air you breathe out is pushed out with greater force through the port and may travel farther than 6 feet to reach the next person.
- While any mask is better than nothing, thin cloth masks such as bandanas do not offer the same level of protection that thicker cloth masks, surgical masks and others offer.
Dr. Nkem Iroegbu is the chief medical officer at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.
About the Author
Dr. Nkem Iroegbu is the chief medical officer at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.