Election Day: 5 Legitimate COVID-19 Concerns for Voting Centers 

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In a year full of momentous happenings, the most important day may still be to come.

On Tuesday, November 3, the American public will vote to see who sits behind the big desk in the oval office for the next four years.  

With the COVID-19 pandemic still gripping the nation, many people will opt to vote by mail-in ballot. Expectations for voter turnout in 2020 are sky-high, and not all will be sending their vote through the USPS. That means polling locations will be open and preparing for large numbers of voters. Here are five legitimate concerns to keep in mind when getting ready for Election Day 2020. 

1. Too Many People – Too Little Space 

One year ago, most of us had never even heard of social distancing, and now it's an everyday part of life. Unfortunately, many polling places are not particularly spacious. If possible, moving to a larger location is optimal, but it may not be viable for many areas.  

If your polling location isn't unusually large, you can still take some actions to help promote social distancing to protect staff members and voters. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) created guiding principles to keep in mind for election day. 

  • Create a one-way path for lines and foot-traffic with one point of entry and a separate point serving as the exit, if possible. Mark 6-foot spacing spots on the floor to help voters keep the proper distance. 
  • Space voting stations at least six feet apart. This may mean having fewer stations than you'd like, but it is a necessary sacrifice. 
  • Use barriers like mobile partitions to separate voting stations and to protect workers at tables. 
  • Remind workers not to greet voters with handshakes or other forms of physical contact. 

2.  Too Many Shared Objects 

Think about it. Every person coming through your voting center will get a folder and use a pen. Voters with disabilities may use headphones. The last thing you want is voters using these items one right after the other. 

Anywhere you can replace reusable items with single-use items. Consider using plastic covers for folders to allow for disinfecting in between voters. Establish a dropoff spot for pens so an assigned worker can disinfect each one before it goes back into use.  

It's also a good idea to wipe down the voting station surfaces between each voter. It will slow things down, but it's worth it. 

3. The Lines Get Too Long 

You don't want to pack in any more people than necessary inside the building at any one time. Limit the number of people who can be in the building and keep windows and doors open.  

Make use of outdoor areas for waiting voters, marking spots to maintain social distancing. Another option is to use a ticketing system like the local deli or the DMV. That way, voters can use their discretion by waiting outside until their number is called or displayed.  

4. Some Won't Wear Masks 

Like it or not, face masks have become politicized. For some people, not wearing a face mask has become a symbol of their freedom and rights. While you want to encourage face covers for voters and require them for all workers, you don't want to restrict anyone's right to vote because they choose not to wear a mask. 

Establish a separate voting station or two that is significantly distanced from the others or, better yet, located out of doors. Establish a protocol for identifying and handling non-masked voters who cast their ballot while not endangering other voters. Provide adequate signage, so voters understand your system. 

5. A Voter Shows Symptoms of COVID-19 

Someone will inevitably show up to vote who is displaying signs related to a COVID-19 infection or even admits to being COVID-19 positive. Much like someone who refuses to wear a mask, you want to allow them to cast their vote without putting the other voters in harm's way. 

The first step is to post signage urging people with symptoms or known COVID-19 cases to avoid entering the voting facility. Establish a separate voting area with a dedicated staff to handle these voters. The staff members should be fully equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE), including respiratory protection, gloves, and face shields. They should also be trained on the proper usage of this equipment.  

A vote of confidence for voters 

While it is almost guaranteed that this coming voting day will be more complicated than others in the past due to the pandemic, with proper preparation, you can be confident that your polling location won't become a hotspot. Clear signage and other markings will help voters feel satisfied that there is a plan, too. 

A FREE Resource to Help 

If you're looking for more ideas on how to make your polling location safe for voters, start with the Back to Elections - Voting Center Safety Starter Kit. You'll find the information you need to know before the first ballot is in and a few tips for optimizing your location to keep voters safe. 

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