It’s an odd time to be an American.
“With the US election approaching fastly, I'm sure many people wonder how they can stay safe while still having the possibility of using their democratic rights,” says Nikola Djordjevic, MD, and medical advisor at Whatasleep.
The power of the vote is enough to cross even party lines. “If there's one thing that Donald Trump and Michelle Obama agree on, it is this: Americans should get out and vote,” says Cristy Brusoe with Harbor Retail. “Both parties, anticipating an election that may come down to a few swing states, are encouraging voters to plan to vote whatever way is best for them -- including in person if possible and safe.”
For some, however, that is easier said than done.
Is It Safe to Vote in-Person?
“In-person voting in this year's election has a lot of Americans on edge, due to the concerns of the rampant spread of the COVID-19 virus,” says Michael Morris, CEO at Kerico Health Care, a Texas-based Home Care, and NEMT firm.
The President’s coronavirus diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization served as a humbling blow, reminding Americans that COVID cares not who you are or what you have.
“As we are seeing firsthand with the president and his inner circle, coronavirus is highly contagious, particularly in indoor environments,” says Brusoe. It’s why, she explains, “Michigan-based manufacturer Harbor Retail is pivoting to create polling place shields that add a layer of protection for our front-line poll workers.”
As the country prepares for a nailbiter of an election that is just weeks away, many are nervous about the safety of the polls.
Joseph Allen, Associate Professor and Director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says to exercise caution. He tells us, “Voting is a low-risk activity, on par with other low-risk and critically important activities we all need to do, like grocery shopping or going to the pharmacy. I will be voting in person this year, masked up, because the risks are very low.”
However, it's not entirely safe as he acknowledges that "the stakes are very high."
How to Stay Safe When Voting in-Person
Thankfully, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19 while you are at the polls.
Preparing to vote
Voting takes a bit of preparation.
“We have advocated that every voter have a plan prior to heading to the polls,” says Morris. “There are a few safety precautions that have worked for our clients that can be duplicated to ensure all voter's safety as they embark on the polls.”
Do your research.
“First, make sure you are registered by going to sites like vote.org and make sure your address and information are accurate,” says Morris. “Then decide what poll station is the closest to your residence.”
Local resources will provide you with the most current and accurate information.
“Make sure to check the coronavirus status in your state,” says Dr. Djordjevic. “If there's a decreased number of infected people in your area, there is less chance you'll be at risk. However, if you're in a more virus-infected state, you'll have to plan better to avoid catching a disease.”
Gather important documents.
“Prepare your documentation before you go to the voting station,” advises Dr. Djordjevic. “Make sure to have everything prepared before you go to the voting poll to avoid checking and looking for documents and papers while being surrounded by other people.”
You will need to show a form of identification that is acceptable to your state. Some examples are:
- Driver’s license
- State-issued ID card
- Military ID card
- Birth certificate
- Social security card
- Bank statement
- Utility bill
Every state has its own requirements for what documents must be shown at the polls.
If you do not have a form of ID, you may still be able to vote by signing an affidavit that confirms your identity or placing a provisional ballot, which will be included in the vote if the state can confirm your eligibility.
If you recently moved or got married, you could have a name or address mismatch. In this case, you may have to cast a provisional ballot, but first, you should try to update all records beforehand.
Going to vote
Consider special accommodations.
This year, social distancing can contribute to already long lines at the pools.
Morris encourages you to think ahead and find ways to make yourself more comfortable. “Make accommodations like bringing a foldable chair and some snacks,” he says, “as long lines would be anticipated for early voting, as well as Election Day.”
Voting early could be one way to avoid the chaos of the polls, says Dr. Djordjevic.
“The main rule for reducing the risks of catching COVID-19 is to avoid crowded spaces,” he says. “There's less crowd in the voting polls in the morning hours, so make sure to rise early, vote, and stay safe.”
Find a safe ride.
Working mostly with seniors, Morris has to take extra precautions to protect his at-risk passengers. “Our drivers disinfect the vehicles after every ride and wear masks at all times to ensure safe transport to the polls,” he says.
Be sure to use your mask during the ride, and try to limit contact with others as much as possible.
If you need a ride, there are many organizations like Carpool Vote that can help provide a safe ride. Lyft and Uber will be giving discounted rides.
In Texas, Morris will be doing his part. “At Kerico Health Care, we will be offering 500 free rides to elderly Texas residents to the polls from October 13-28.”
Wear a mask
“Don't forget to wear a mask while going to and back from the voting poll,” Dr. Djordjevic says, “as it is one sure method that will help you decrease the risks of catching COVID-19.”
Scott Milne, author of WIN THE WAR ON COVID-19: Virus Defense Strategy for Home and Business, also stresses the need for a mask. “Of course, you want to bring a good facemask that you are comfortable in for long periods of time. It is also not a bad idea to consider gloves and glasses.”
Morris agrees. “Our clients are predominantly elderly, and we notice 90% of them are always wearing additional PPE, like gloves, in addition to their masks,” he explains. “This prevents the urge to touch their face.”
The benefits are “obvious,” he says, adding, “This limits the spread of virus-laden aerosols and prevents the spread of the virus quite effectively.”
Ensure social distancing.
“Most polling stations have also taken precautionary measures to ensure all voters’ safety,” says Milne. “Once you arrive, make sure there is a distance of at least 6 feet between you and the next voter in front and behind you in line.”
As you wait in line and move through the voting process, you may have to come into contact with others. “Attempt to stay distant from everyone else, and avoid entering another person's ‘breath cloud,’” says Milne.
Avoid touching surfaces.
At the polls, you can come into contact with many surfaces that are touched by hundreds of others.
“Avoid touching all surfaces except for that lever or button,” says Milne, a contagion expert.
That includes bringing your own pen, says Dr. Djordjevic. “Make sure to bring your own pen to voting, since you'll have to use it to vote. Or, if you forgot to bring it, make sure to have sanitizing wipes with you to disinfect them properly.”
Bring hand sanitizer.
“Don't forget to bring hand sanitizer to voting, since you'll be touching many surfaces other people have touched before,” advises Milne. “You should carry a 2oz hand sanitizer in your left pocket.”
He has a solution for high-risk voters, too.
“There is also an affordable small personal air purifier that you can wear around your neck that emits an ionic breeze across your face repelling pathogens. It is unnoticeable and is said to make a mask up to 300 times more effective,” he advises.
Milne ends with a word of warning. “Make sure to always remind yourself to avoid touching your face and eyes before using the hand sanitizer.”
After voting, he highly recommends taking a shower and washing your clothes when you return home to rid any lingering bacteria or particles that hitched a ride with you from the polls.
The Bottom Line
Even during a global pandemic, life goes on, and the 2020 election is no exception. Without a cure for coronavirus, voters must exercise caution so they can vote safely this year.
Milne encourages voters to remain positive. “Do whatever you can to take steps to protect yourself, and please be brave, patient, and vote,” he says.
Photo by Tetra Images / Gettyimages