How to Vote Safely in 2020


October 22, 2020

From the pandemic to protests to wildfires, the events of this year have brought people together but also highlighted deep divides throughout the country. It’s more important than ever to make your voice heard.

And voting is the best way to do it.

As the virus rages across the nation, though, your standard voting practices may not cut it. Instead, you’ll want to take some extra precautions to protect yourself and others in your community this Election Day.

Cast your ballot ahead of time.

Even if you’ve never chosen early voting or an absentee ballot, this may be the year to do so. Some voters appreciate that these options could reduce their contact with crowds at the polls. Others want to ensure that illness or self-isolation on Election Day won’t keep them from having a say in the democratic process.

For the 2020 election, voting by mail is an option nationwide, but each state sets its own guidelines.

Check with your state or local election board to learn whether you still have time to request a mail-in ballot or find out how to return your completed form.

If an absentee ballot doesn’t work for you, contact your local election officials about when and where you might be able to vote early. 

As with mail-in ballots, the rules about in-person early voting vary from state to state, and some don’t offer this option at all.

Ask about polling place precautions.

Although voting early may be a viable option for you, in-person voting on Election Day can be a reasonably safe choice as well. Health experts suggest that casting your ballot at the polls may not be any more dangerous than running to the grocery store.

That may depend, though, on what precautions are being taken at your polling place.

Some places may offer:

  • Social distancing markers on the floor;
  • Spaced-out voting booths; and/or
  • Plexiglass dividers between poll workers and the public.

These measures may help limit the transfer of germs. Having voters wait outside and adequately ventilating indoor spaces could help, too.

Before Election Day, reach out to your polling place to ask about their safety measures. If you’re not comfortable with the answer you receive, push for changes or consider voting early if possible.

Arrive during an off hour.

To keep your exposure during in-person voting to a minimum, try to show up at a less popular time so you’ll spend fewer minutes waiting in line and breathing recirculated air.

Midmorning or midafternoon may be a good bet. Ask your employer if you and your coworkers can take turns visiting the polls during the workday.

If at all possible, avoid the busy lunch hour and the crush of last-minute voters at the end of the evening.

If you have time to spare, pull into the parking lot early in the day to keep an eye on the crowd level. When you notice a lull in new arrivals, hop into line. Ideally, you’ll be in and out in no time.

No matter when you go, limit the amount of small talk you do with those around you. Not only will that help to keep the line moving, but it could also reduce the amount of germ-sharing that takes place.

Leave your crew at home.

Teaching kids to be responsible citizens is important, but this isn’t the year to take youngsters to the polls. Bringing non-voters with you will increase crowd levels and make social distancing more difficult. If possible, trade childcare duties with your partner or ask a sitter to watch your kids outdoors while you go vote.

Dress for the occasion.

These days, no outfit is complete without a mask. And Election Day is no exception. 

Be sure to don an appropriate face covering before heading to your polling place. Choose a mask made of at least two layers, with a snug fit so excess air won’t escape out the sides or the bottom.

Also, opt for clothing that’s appropriate for the weather. You may spend more time standing in an outdoor line than you normally do on Election Day. If it’s chilly, wear a coat and scarf. Grab an umbrella or a poncho if there’s rain in the forecast.

Bring your own supplies.

The CDC says that shared surfaces aren’t a primary mode of coronavirus transmission, but it doesn’t hurt to reduce your contact with collective-use items.

There’s always a small chance that you might transfer viral particles to your eyes, nose or mouth after touching a contaminated object and then touching your face. 

The fewer items you touch in the voting booth, the less you’ll have to worry about transmission.

If your polling place uses paper and pens, bring your own black ballpoint pen to mark your ballot. For touchscreen voting machines, consider bringing a stylus. You’ll need to ask the poll workers whether it’s okay to use it, though.

One thing you shouldn’t do is use your own disinfecting wipes on the equipment. The wrong cleaning supplies could damage electronics or other devices.

Wash and wash again.

Whether you touch multiple shared surfaces or try to keep your hands to yourself the whole time, don’t skimp on hand hygiene on Election Day.

Wash your hands before you head to the polls, and apply alcohol-based hand sanitizer just before it’s your turn to vote. Those steps will protect others from any germs that may be on your hands.

After you’ve finished voting, use another round of hand sanitizer to kill any germs that you may have picked up along the way. Once you return to your home or office, wash thoroughly with soap and water for a final round of protection.

Volunteer if you can.

Finally, consider making an extra contribution to the election process this year. Voting locations depend on poll workers to keep the process running smoothly. Moving voters quickly through the line depends on having an adequate number of volunteers.

Unfortunately, many of the people who normally fill this role have stepped down because they fall into high-risk categories. 

If your chances of developing serious COVID-19 complications are low, consider whether you could spend part of Election Day as a poll worker.

Each state sets its own rules about requirements and compensation for election helpers. Contact the election authority in your jurisdiction to ask whether they still need volunteers. 

You can also visit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website to learn more about serving as a poll worker.

Although the pandemic presents new challenges, it shouldn’t rob you of your right to vote. No matter how you participate in the election process — by mail, in person or as a poll worker — your input matters. Take proper precautions as you head to the polls, but don’t let the virus silence your voice.