You want to vote in person, but is it safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic?


Casting ballots in person is low-risk when public health guidelines are followed, says UCLA Health infectious diseases expert.

Like everything else in the age of COVID-19, voting in the November election will look a little different.

“People should make sure that wherever they’re casting their ballot, that jurisdiction and polling place are following public health guidelines,” says Annabelle de St. Maurice, MD, MPH, co-chief infection prevention officer for UCLA Health.

That means all the now-familiar precautions should be in place: face masks, physical distancing, hand washing and frequent use of hand sanitizer.

“That will really help reduce the risk,” Dr. de St. Maurice says.

She recommends voting early, if that’s offered in your precinct, as it is in Los Angeles County. “That will help avoid those long lines that we see on November 3rd,” she says.

If you find yourself in a long line nonetheless, be sure to stay at least six feet away from others and keep your mask on.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to reduce coronavirus spread at polling locations, masks must be worn and voting equipment must be adequately spaced in a well-ventilated room. Shared objects, such as voting machines, laptops and keyboards, should be disinfected regularly.

Voters should also wash their hands before entering and after leaving the polling station and use hand sanitizer after touching voting machines. Dr. de St. Maurice recommends voters bring their own hand sanitizer in case none is available at the polling locations.

It’s also important to review the sample ballot in advance to expedite time spent on site.

“People typically spend, on average, just a few minutes voting, and we get concerned more often about activities that last longer than 15 minutes,” says Dr. de St. Maurice, who is working with the UCLA Voting Rights Project, part of the Latino Politics & Policy Initiative. “So when you’re up there voting, that’s actually kind of a low-risk activity.

“The biggest thing is making sure that, when you’re waiting in line, you’re not clustered and crowded,” she says.

Wisconsin was the first state to hold in-person voting during the pandemic — its primary election was less than two weeks after the state issued shelter-in-place orders — and some voters waited in lines for hours to cast ballots. The city of Milwaukee followed CDC guidelines and found no resulting increase in cases, hospitalizations or deaths due to the novel coronavirus after the election.

“I think that’s very reassuring that we can do this safely if we are following local public health recommendations,” says Dr. de St. Maurice.

Absentee voting is another option. All registered voters in L.A. County will automatically receive a vote-by-mail ballot for the upcoming general election. Ballots can be returned by mail, at voting locations or at vote-by-mail drop boxes.

Any voter who isn’t feeling well should stay home and vote absentee, Dr. de St. Maurice says.

“Another reason to vote early is, just in case closer to Election Day you don’t feel well, at least you’ve already cast your vote,” she says.

“But it’s important that people realize that going to the voting site — if the site is following public health recommendations — shouldn’t be a very high-risk activity.”

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