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Is voting in person safe? Yes, as long as you take these precautions

Voting -- like everything else this year -- is going to look different, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Here's how to protect yourself.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
4 min read

Here's what to do to stay safe if you are voting at the polls this year.

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Like virtually everything else in our lives, COVID-19 is changing the way many people will vote this year. Ahead of the presidential election in November, many Americans are worried about how they can cast their vote, have their voice heard in the 2020 election, and how they can protect themselves from the coronavirus while doing so. 

Some states, like New York, are working to expand who can vote by mail this year, in the wake of safety concerns over the coronavirus. And while most states already allow mail-in voting (five states, including Utah and Colorado, already vote primarily by mail), some states aren't expanding their guidelines to allow those who are concerned about COVID-19 to request a mail-in ballot. 

Even states that are currently hotspots for the virus, like Mississippi and Texas, are not making it easier for all concerned voters to stay at home to avoid risks of spreading or coming in contact with the virus. That means, in those states and many others, you'll have to go to a polling place to cast your vote.

If you're considering your options for how to vote this year, keep reading below for insight from Jason Tetro, microbiologist author of The Germ Files and The Germ Code, on how safe it is to vote in person and how to minimize your risk.

Check if you can get a mail-in or absentee ballot

The best way to reduce your risk of contracting the virus is to stay at home and avoid contact with others. Knowing that, some people are concerned about standing in lines to vote, and coming into contact with others at polling stations. Since you can't control those environments, you may want to consider your other options before you decide to head to the polls. 

First, check if your state allows you to request a mail-in ballot or an absentee ballot -- and request it as soon as possible. Some states, like Alabama, Ohio and Connecticut, are allowing you to request a ballot without an excuse or have expanded the allowable excuses to include concern over COVID-19 -- but again, it depends on your state. You can't request a mail-in ballot a week before the election day and expect that it will arrive on time. 


In many states, you'll be able to vote by mail this year.

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Resources for determining mail-in or absentee ballot eligibility

TheSkimm: TheSkimm has a voting information tool that allows you to enter your state; the system will automatically pull your state's voting guidelines and deadlines, and will give you instructions on how to request your mail-in or absentee ballot if eligible. 

USA.Gov: Find your state or local election office website for more information on voting guidelines for the 2020 election.

NASS 'Can I Vote?': The National Associations of Secretaries of State's "Can I Vote?" website allows you to enter your state; you'll be directed to that state's information on absentee voting or early voting options. 

Early voting

Some states allow early voting ahead of election day via mail in ballots, or in-person voting. Again, the guidelines will depend on your state, so be sure to check your state's voting guidelines. As of April 2020, at least 40 states plus the District of Columbia are permitting early voting without any excuse (meaning you can request an early voting option, no questions asked).

You can see a list of states that allow early voting, and access the early voting rules for each state.

Staying safe at the polls

If you're not voting early or with mail-in ballots, keep reading below for tips on how to stay safe if you're voting in-person at the polls this year.

Vote at off-peak hours to avoid lines

One situation you want to avoid is getting stuck inside (where air can't circulate well) in a line with lots of people. Hopefully, voting sites will enforce social distancing in lines, which helps, but standing in a line indoors for extended periods can create risk. 

"The greatest risk for spread will come as it does with all other respiratory viruses like the common cold and the flu. It'll be when you are standing in a line while indoors, just like grocery shopping, security at the airport and renewing your license at the DMV," Tetro says. 

Ideally, polling places will take extra measures to ensure safety, like placing barriers in between voting stations, limiting the number of people inside a voting area, and improving ventilation in voting locations. 

Wear your mask and social distance 


Wearing a face mask and keeping your distance at the polls can help protect you from the coronavirus.

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Voting safety really hinges on everyone doing their part and wearing masks -- this includes others voting near you and the poll workers, too. Health authorities believe this is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus and keep yourself safe. "The key to preventing any respiratory infectious disease is protection of the airway. Obviously the most effective way to accomplish this is barrier protection in the form of a face mask or shield," Tetro says.

In addition to wearing a mask or shield, remember to keep your distance when possible. Stand at least 6 feet away from others at all times, even if you are in line or voting. This could be tricky when you have to interact with poll-workers, but it's possible that there will be some barrier in place to protect them and yourself -- like many grocery stores are doing at check-out counters. 

Practice good hand hygiene

Good hand hygiene habits are going to be important for a long time -- so be sure to practice them when you vote, too. You may have to touch screens, pens, paper and door handles when you vote -- and likely many people have touched them before you. Be sure to either wear gloves or immediately wash your hands and use hand sanitizer after touching these items. 

Even if poll workers are wiping down these items regularly, you never know how often they are being cleaned, and you should stay on top of hygiene to protect yourself and others. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.