Even with record numbers of COVID-19 cases in the United States, the wheels of democracy must still turn. For voters planning on showing up to the polls this November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published considerations for preventing the spread of coronavirus at election polling locations.
According to the CDC, elections with single-day, in-person voting are at higher risk for coronavirus spread. By offering voters with alternative voting methods, like mail-in ballots, state and local officials can effectively lower the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the community. Polling settings should also reduce the risk by implementing all feasible options for reducing the number of voters in a single polling location.
“In the midst of this pandemic, voters should not need to choose between their health and casting their ballots,” Klobuchar said. “This guidance from the CDC makes it clear that the government must take steps to protect voters,”Senator Amy Klobuchar, who led an effort to request this guidance, said in a statement.
Craven County in North Carolina has seen a rise in in the number of people requesting absentee ballots for the November election, but the Director of Elections have begun measuring all polling locations to see how many voting booths can be used while keeping a six foot distance. It’s important to offer voters alternative ways of voting, but it is also critical that those casting their ballots in-person and poll workers are adequately protected.
Setting Up for Social Distancing
The first consideration should be choosing where to set up polling and voting locations. The CDC recommends using larger spaces, like community centers and gymnasiums, to accommodate social distancing. If it it’s feasible in your community, increase the number of polling locations available for early voting and extending the hours of operation. Like officials are doing in Craven County, you may want to consider mapping out each individual polling place to show workers how to set up the location to facilitate social distancing.
When voters come into the voting location, they need to know where to go. Make sure to clearly mark exits and entrances to avoid traffic jams and use visual cues like floor marking to remind and encourage workers to stay six feet apart. Plan ahead on how to manage lines to ensure social distancing can be maintained. As much as possible, minimize lines; use floor signs and floor marking tape to remind voters to keep a healthy distance while in line. Consider using one-way traffic signs to keep people moving in an orderly fashion.
If there are areas in the location where social distancing can be difficult, such as check-in tables, install plastic guards allowing voters to show identification to the election worker with minimal physical contact.
Communicating with Voters
Keeping voters informed of new social distancing practices and safety protocols will keep everyone healthy and everything running smoothly. Make sure your signs communicate to all voters. In Texas, for example, all election materials (including signs) must be prepared in both English and Spanish. Signage and safety messages should also be accessible to voters with disabilities—this might mean providing large print or having audible messages with the same information.
Post safety signs where people are sure to see them, like at entrances and in restrooms, that promote protective measures to help stop the spread of germs. Use signs to encourage voters to wear a cloth face covering while in the polling location and where people can locate the nearest hand sanitizer station. Don’t forget about also posting signs remind everyone to avoid handshakes, high-fives, and hugs when greeting others. By providing directional markings and safety signs, you can set your polling place up for healthy operations.
Those working at voting locations have the right to a safe and healthy work environment. Urge anyone who feels sick to stay home and ensure poll locations are adequately staffed in case of any coverage issues. Like voters, face coverings should be recommended and reinforced among all poll workers.
Provide hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) for each step in the voting process: where voters interact with poll workers, after using the voting machine to protect poll workers and voters.
Put hand sanitizer in multiple locations where people can easily find them. Like registration desks, where “I Voted” stickers are distributed, and exits. Encourage poll workers to wash their hands frequently: when they enter the location, before and after breaks or shifts, after touching their facemask, etc. and after they cough. If it’s possible for your poll workers, schedule in extra small breaks to give them ample opportunities to practice good hand hygiene.
Cleaning Voting + Polling Locations
Although recent information about the spread of COVID-19 suggests transmission by surface is not as likely, it’s still critical to clean and disinfect the polling location. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces—such as door handles, registration tables, pens, and clipboards—as well as voting-associated equipment like voting machines, laptops, tables, keyboards, and ballot activation cards should also be routinely disinfected. Finally, check with vendors about specific sanitization procedures you should follow before cleaning any equipment that will be handled by voters or polling place
With a few months until November, states and local jurisdictions need to start planning now on how to practice social distancing and protect voters—and ultimately the community—when polls open.
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