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.
The virus that causes COVID-19, is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze.
Personal prevention practices and environmental cleaning and disinfection are important actions election officials, poll workers, and voters can take to help lower the risk of COVID-19 spread.
If voting in-person, what steps should voters take?
- Maintain at least a 6 feet distance from the next person.
- Wear a mask.
- Wash your hands or using a hand sanitizer with more than 60 percent alcohol before and after contact with surfaces.
- Choose a low-traffic time to vote. Most polling places see longer lines in the mornings before people head to work, or during midday lunch breaks, and again at the end of the workday.
- Review the instructions for voting before going to the voting place to reduce the time spent at the site.
- Bring your own black ink pen or stylus for electronic voting. (NOTE: You should check with the staff at the polling place whether you are able to use your pen during the voting process)
What should voters look for at their polling place?
- Before going into the polling place, it is a good idea to get a general feeling for how long the indoor wait times are, as well as whether there is appropriate practice of social distancing.
- Many polling stations have Plexiglas barriers between polling booths. This adds another layer of protection for the voters and staff.
- Polling stations with separate entry and exit points help minimize the potential for crowds to form in the spaces.
- Avoid voting in a high-risk facility such as a skilled nursing facility or other congregate living facilities if possible.
What additional reminders or safety considerations?
- It’s possible you may be asked to remove your mask to verify your identity. If that is the case, use a hand sanitizer before and after touching the mask. It is a good idea to bring an extra mask in case the mask straps break, or the mask becomes visibly soiled.
- Remember that to be effective, masks must cover both the nose and mouth. Masks primarily help by protecting other people. Wearing masks with exhalation ports unfortunately puts others at risk since all the air you breathe out is pushed out with greater force through the port and may travel farther than 6 feet to reach the next person.
- While any mask is better than nothing, thin cloth masks such as bandanas do not offer the same level of protection that thicker cloth masks, surgical masks and others offer.
Recommendations for election officials
Stay home when sick or after recent close contact with a person with COVID-19
Educate poll workers about when they should stay home and when they can return to work.
Poll workers who are sick, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 should stay home. Ensure that poll locations are adequately staffed to cover any sick workers who need to stay home:
- If they have been sick with COVID-19
- If they have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19
- If they have tested positive for COVID-19
Provide an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol for use at each step in the voting process where voters interact with poll workers, after using the voting machine, and as the final step in the voting process.
Place alcohol-based hand sanitizer in visible, frequently used locations such as registration desks, where “I Voted” stickers are dispensed, and exits. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not be compatible with electronic voting equipment and may damage paper ballots. Poll workers and voters should ensure their hands are completely dry before handling these items.
Encourage poll workers to wash their hands frequently (e.g., before entering the polling location, before and after breaks or shifts, after touching or handling masks or PPE, after using the restroom, after touching shared surfaces or objects) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Recommend and reinforce the use of masks among all workers. 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.
A plastic barrier between the voter and the poll worker can provide additional protection. Post signs providing instruction on proper removal and handling of masks.
Signs and messages
Post signs in highly visible locations (e.g., at entrances, in restrooms) that promote everyday protective measures and describe how to stop the spread of germs such as by properly washing hands and properly wearing a mask.
Remind voters upon arrival to leave space between themselves and others. Encourage voters to stay at least 6 feet apart. Polling places may provide signs, or other visual cues such as floor markings, decals, or chalk marks to help voters and workers remember this.
Have plans to manage lines to ensure social distancing can be maintained.
Clearly mark points of entry and exit to avoid bottlenecks.
Dr. Nkem Iroegbu, chief medical officer at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.