Millions will head to the polls on Tuesday to cast their vote in person which has the potential for large crowds or other less-than-ideal conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which released a case report last month calling for stronger mitigation measures at the polls, has posted updated guidance to help voters and poll workers stay safe on Election Day.
“The more an individual interacts with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” the CDC wrote. “Elections with only in-person voting on a single day are higher risk for COVID-19 spread because there will be larger crowds and longer wait times. Lower risk election polling settings include those with: a wide variety of voting options, longer voting periods (more days and/or more hours, any other feasible options for reducing the number of voters who congregate indoors in polling locations at the same time.”
While the main route of transmission for COVID-19 is through respiratory outlets, numerous studies have shown that it may be possible to contract the illness by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching the face, nose or possibly even eyes. Handwashing, staying home when sick, cleaning and disinfection are all mitigation measures that should be used on Election Day, the health agency advises.
Election officials and poll workers can also help stifle spread by staying home if they are sick or had recent close contact with a person with COVID-19. Providing hand sanitizer at the polls for each step in the voting process, and placing it in a visible location can also help promote disinfecting measures, as can regularly cleaning and disinfecting voting equipment. Encouraging poll workers to wash their hands frequently and to cover coughs and sneezes can also help keep the environments safe, the CDC advises.
“Recommend and reinforce the use of masks among all workers,” the CDC advises. “Masks are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Information should be provided to workers on proper use, removal and washing of masks.”
It’s also recommended that workers encourage voters to use masks, and when the need for mask removal arises to place a plastic barrier between the voter and the poll worker. Voters should also be reminded of the importance of social distancing with the aid of signs or other visual cues such as floor markings.
Crowd and line management may also play an important role in slowing the spread should an infected person enter the polling area. The CDC recommends increasing the number of polling locations available for early voting and extending the hours of operation, as well as maintaining or increasing the number of polling places available to the public on Election Day.
Once inside, increasing distance between voting booths and modifying the location layout to ensure voters move in one direction can help, as can encouraging those who plan to vote in-person to do so during off-peak times.
In order to protect those most at risk for severe illness, polling locations previously set up at nursing homes or long-term care facilities should be moved. They should also be set up separate from other facility users.
Voters are encouraged to check voting location and requirements in advance to cut down on time spent at the polls, and if necessary, to complete registration forms before arriving to vote.
Bringing your own black pen or a stylus to use at a touchscreen voting machine can also be helpful.