Voters are expecting record-long lines at polling stations when they cast their ballots for the 2020 presidential race. The window for voters to get ballots delivered via the U.S. Postal Service is rapidly closing in many states, as is the window for early in-person voting. Those planning to vote in person on Election Day are wondering how to be safe while voting in the middle of a pandemic.
If early voting is still an option where you live, that’s undoubtedly the best route to take. With the election rapidly approaching, even those who choose to vote early will likely encounter long lines and wait times. There are, however, a few simple guidelines to ensure the safest voting experience for yourself and those around you.
If possible, scope out your polling station in advance to ascertain how safe your voting experience will be. Are there long lines of people standing outside? Of those who are waiting, are they spaced six feet apart and wearing appropriate facial coverings?
Other things to check include whether your polling location maintains separate entrances and exits as people come and go, utilizes plexiglass barriers, and if poll workers are wearing face masks, shields, and gloves.
Dr. Marybeth Sexton, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Emory University in Atlanta, told CNN voters can communicate with their local government to inquire about the safety measures being taken by their local polling place.
“Some of these things can be rectified by limiting the number of people who come indoors at any one point in time, and really spacing out stations and spacing out the line, and then making sure that everybody is masked,” Sexton said. “Outdoors is just dramatically safer than indoors because of the airflow.”
Another option is voting during off-hours or less busy times of the day, where possible. Polls tend to be less crowded during the mid-morning or early to mid-afternoon, as opposed to before and after work or at lunchtime. Checking in with local Facebook groups or apps like Nextdoor can also be helpful, as neighbors will likely post updates about lines and crowds throughout the day.
The safest way to vote in person during the pandemic
In the event that in-person voting on Election Day is unavoidable, you can still ensure the safest experience possible by following some basic guidelines.
- Mask up: Choose a quality cotton mask with two or three layers of fabric. If your mask has a filter and you expect to be waiting for several hours, you may want to change the filter frequently to prevent clogging. Make sure that your mask covers both your mouth and nose—as wearing a mask under your nose is equivalent to not wearing one at all.
- Vote solo: Though you may be tempted to bring children or other non-voting family members with you to demonstrate the importance of voting or to keep you company, 2020 is a bad year for it. Excluding those who have a disability that may require assistance, experts advise showing up to the polls by yourself.
- Be prepared: In addition to wearing a mask, make sure to bring tissues or disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. You may also want to prepare a personal kit including scraps of paper to handle doorknobs and touch surfaces, as well as gloves, a pen or pencil, your voter registration card or ID, and even a book or magazine to pass the time.
Follow these measures for your own protection, as well as to protect the safety of election workers and fellow voters. If you feel ill on Election Day or may have been exposed to COVID-19, some districts are offering curbside voting for those who are extremely high risk. In the absolute worst-case scenario, you may need to sit this election cycle out.
Hannah Klain, an Equal Justice Works fellow in the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York City, noted that additional measures will be needed for curbside voting. “If election workers are doing curbside voting, we would want them to have additional PPE like gloves, a face shield, and a face mask,” she said.