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How to Vote Safely During COVID-19

people voting

 Ellen Lindner / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • Voting by mail is the safest option for people with underlying health conditions.
  • With proper precautions, voting in person should not significantly increase your risk of COVID-19 exposure.
  • Do not try to sanitize a ballot. Cleaning products may damage ballots and voting equipment.

The countdown is on to the 2020 Presidential election—debatably one of the most important elections in our lifetime. Normally, the poll sites are packed with people lining up outside voting centers every November. But as COVID-19 has proven, this year is anything but normal, and certain measures must be taken to ensure the highly contagious virus doesn’t spread any further.

Whether you’ve chosen to vote by mail-in ballot or want to vote in person, it’s important to know what to expect and how to protect yourself (and others) if you do choose to visit the poll sites.   

Mail-In Voting Options Vary by State

The safest option to avoid spreading COVID-19 is to vote by mail. The requirements to register to vote and request your mail-in ballot differ from state to state. Many states allow any voters to request an absentee ballot in advance, some states require voters to cite a specific reason on their voter application for voting absentee, and some states are allowing voters to cite worries over the coronavirus as their reason for absentee voting.

To find out what the rules and restrictions are in your state, visit Can I Vote, where, after selecting your state, you will be directed to your state’s absentee voting page.

Those with certain underlying health conditions, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and other serious illnesses are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and are encouraged to vote by mail. 

“Those who are elderly or considered to be immunocompromised should consider voting by mail to ensure that they do not increase their chances of contracting the disease,” Aaron Rossi, MD, founder of Reditus Laboratories and PAL Health Technologies, tells Verywell.

Steps to Take if Voting In Person

Before heading to the polls, it’s a good idea to check with your voting precinct to see what steps they’re taking to help keep voters safe. You can do this by checking usa.gov/election-office for your specific precinct, or you can use that same link to find the phone number for your poll site and speak with someone on the phone. 

“Call ahead and ask what protocols they have in place—such as sanitization protocols (like frequent sanitizing of surfaces, door knobs, etc.), personal protective equipment (PPE) for poll workers (at least a mask, shield, and gloves), separate entrance and exit to allow for lack of crowding, spacing between booths and folks in line, and plexiglass between voters and poll workers,” Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, MD, an infectious disease physician at Washington University School of Medicine and the VA St. Louis Health Care System, tells Verywell. 

Verify Your Voter Registration Information

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends verifying that your voter registration information is correct in advance of reporting to the polling location. If you've had a name change or address change since the last time you voted, you'll need to update your voter registration.

Compile Any Necessary Documents

Make sure you have all necessary documents to avoid delays at the polling location. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states require or request some sort of ID at the polls. Check the NCSL website to see if your state's laws require an ID to vote, and if so, what kind.

First-time voters who have not already provided verification of their identification will need to bring an ID to vote, according to federal law.

If possible, complete any registration forms prior to arriving at the polls. If you can, try and review or complete a sample ballot at home to speed the process of casting your ballot at the polling location.

Wear a Mask and Practice Good Hygiene

Another crucial step in protecting yourself and those around you from the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a mask at all times. 

“Although some states have not mandated the use of masks, I would strongly recommend wearing one in this instance,” Rossi says. “Sanitize your hands upon arrival and after completion of voting. It is very important to refrain from touching your face or adjusting your mask, especially after touching anything in the voting booth.” 

The CDC notes that some alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not be compatible with electronic voting equipment and may damage paper ballots, so poll workers and voters should ensure their hands are completely dry before handling these items.

“If possible, bring your own black pen or use a stylus to submit your vote, and maintain a 6-foot radius of social distancing while waiting to vote,” Rossi says. “Lines should be reduced as much as possible with strict social distancing measures enforced between each voter as they wait in line.” 

Will Long Lines Increase Your Transmission Risk?

According to Manisha Sharma, MD, a family medicine physician and co-founder of VoteHealth2020, there is always a risk of transmission with the COVID-19 virus when waiting in lines. “But if you mask up, stay 6 feet or more apart from others, and wash your hands before and after voting, your chance of transmission is less than 3%,” Sharma tells Verywell. “That's less of a chance than catching the flu pre-COVID.”   

Can You Contract COVID-19 From Touching Surfaces at the Polls? 

Although you’re less likely to contract COVID-19 from touching surfaces than through respiratory droplets, it’s still a possibility, and should be taken into account when casting your ballot.

“Although the virus can survive for a short period of time on surfaces, it is possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching surfaces that have the virus on it. This can then be transferred to you by touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes,” Rossi says. “Typically, this is not the main way the virus spreads, but because of this, voters should err on the side of caution and bring disposable gloves to put on immediately prior to voting and dispose of them after voting completion, or use a stylus to cast their ballots.”  

The CDC does not recommend that you try and disinfect or wipe down your own voting booth, as electronic voting equipment can be damaged by cleaners and disinfectants. Use hand sanitizer before touching the voting equipment, but make sure your hands are completely dry beforehand, so as not to damage the equipment. Make sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer again after voting.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19: People with certain medical conditions. Updated September 11, 2020.

  2. National Conference of State Legislatures. Voter identification requirements. Updated August 25, 2020.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for election polling locations and voters. Updated June 22, 2020.

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