As early voting for the 2020 presidential election begins in many states, the Covid-19 pandemic has created concerns about whether voting in-person at a polling place will increase your risk of contracting the disease.
But 79-year-old White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said it's safe to vote in person — in fact, he is going to try to vote in person, his schedule permitting, he told Yahoo! News Thursday.
"If one does the polling process carefully and prudently, I think it would be fine for people to go to the polls, who feel that that's something that they want to do," Fauci told Yahoo! News.
People who are "particularly vulnerable" to Covid-19 — such as older adults, immunocompromised individuals and those with certain underlying medical conditions — may be reluctant to leave the house to go vote, Fauci said. "For those, mail-in ballots or drop-it-in-a-box ballot, I think, would be fine."
"If I can't [vote in-person] I'm going to drop it into box," he said. "I'm going to vote, for sure."
Ultimately, the goal in voting safely is to minimize contact with other people. That might mean pursuing voting alternatives, such as voting by mail or drop box. Voters and poll workers need to be following appropriate guidelines in order for in-person voting to be safe.
If, like Fauci, you plan to physically go to a polling place to vote, here's what you can do to make the process safer:
For starters, plan to go vote during off-peak hours, like in the mid-morning, or during the early voting period, the Centers for Disease Control suggests. If you have the time, monitor the line at your polling place and join when the crowd dies down.
If you can, you should complete a sample ballot at home and familiarize yourself with the information on your ballot, so you can quickly and accurately complete your ballot when it's time.
Don't bring any guests, such as children or other family members, with you to the polling site to cut back on the number of people in the facility.
And if you are ill or have symptoms of Covid-19, you should stay home and consider an alternative option for voting. Curbside voting, in which you vote from inside your car, is available in many states.
The CDC recommends that people practice Covid-19 prevention measures while voting at a polling place. For example: wear a mask; wash your hands (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) after touching surfaces like a door handle or voting machine; maintain at least six feet of distance from others and cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
Your polling site should be held in a well-ventilated space. That means the building should have HVAC that can facilitate air flow, according to healthy voting guidelines from The Brennan Center and the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Opening windows and doors to allow fresh air inside is also a way to encourage air flow. There should also be enough room to maintain social distance from others.
The polling location should also be outfitted with supplies such as soap, hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, paper towels, tissues, disinfectant wipes and no-touch trash cans, per the CDC. To minimize contact with poll workers, you might be instructed to put items like reusable ballot activation cards or ballot secrecy sleeves into a container, rather than hand them to someone else.
Look for plexiglass barriers or other physical shields in areas where it's not possible to social distance, for example, at the check-in area or between voting stations, according to the CDC. There should also be markings on the floor that display appropriate social distancing; be sure to follow any signage that indicates where to stand or direction to move.
Poll workers, as well as voters, should all be wearing masks.
Don't try to wipe down a voting machine to disinfect it on your own; some cleaning products can damage electronic voting machines, the CDC says. (Plus, your polling place should be routinely disinfecting all high-touch surfaces and shared objects.)
If you use a hand sanitizer before handling your ballot, ensure that your hands are dry so the sanitizer doesn't damage the ballot. Be diligent about washing your hands or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after using the machines.
In addition to your necessary voting documents, it's a good idea to show up prepared with your own black ink pen or stylus tool, if permitted, to use touchscreen voting machines, according to the CDC. Your polling site might offer disposable pens or pencils to mark paper ballots, or Q-tips and finger covers to use instead of your fingers, according to the IDSA.
Bring an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands after touching surfaces, and don't forget to wear your mask.
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