With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, voters are wondering if it’s safe to vote in person on Election Day. We’re answering that question—and many others—to help you vote in November.
This article is part of COURIER’s Your Vote 2020 hub. For more stories from each of the battleground states, along with national reporting, visit the site here.
Heading to a polling place to vote in person on Election Day has historically been the most common way for Americans to cast their ballot. However, experts are predicting record numbers of mail-in votes for the 2020 presidential election due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That fact aside, voting in person on Election Day is still a favored option for many, despite some concerns and confusion around the operation and safety of polling places. While voting by mail is safe and secure, voting in person removes any stress you may have about postmark requirements, postage, deadlines, and the like.
If you’re planning on voting in person on Election Day this November, read our guide below for everything you need to know about what it will look like this year.
Is voting in person on Election Day safe this year?
The short answer is: Yes, voting in person will be safe on Election Day, if voters follow coronavirus safety protocols.
The truth is that for many Americans, voting in person on Election Day is their preferred option when compared to voting by mail or absentee. Your action that day is translated into a visible result that same night. However, things are a bit more complicated in 2020.
Despite concerns about being exposed to COVID-19 at polling places, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, said voting in person would be safe as long as voters wore masks and social distancing measures were observed. He compared voting safety with shopping at a grocery store where social distancing procedures are being followed.
Wired also noted that there was no evidence of spikes in coronavirus cases after the Wisconsin primary this spring, in which in-person voting figured largely.
Will voting in person take longer this year?
There is no way to predict whether there will be long or short lines at your polling place this year. With the number of early voting options available to most Americans in 2020, many polling places may actually see shorter lines on Election Day.
The CDC has advised local polling places to expand in-person early voting and Election Day hours of operation to lower the number of voters congregating at a polling location at the same time. However, you’ll need to be mindful of the polling site situation in your state and be prepared to exercise social distancing protocols as you wait.
How Should I Prepare to Possibly Wait in Line?
Lines are a regular part of any general election, depending on where you live. This year, huge voter turnout in Georgia and Texas during early voting has led to lines, suggesting that turnout is higher than expected. Technical glitches also happen—even in election years that aren’t taking place during a pandemic.
With that in mind, come prepared to entertain yourself: bring a book, a magazine, or stream some binge-worthy TV. You can also study your local down-ballot races and ballot initiatives in your area. Alternatively, make a list of friends and family you’ve been meaning to talk to and reach out. You should also wear layers of clothing if you’re in a colder part of the country, as you may be waiting outside. Snacks would also be a good idea.
Are normal polling places going to be open?
Generally, yes. Though, changes to polling places—including locations and procedures—are possible due to the coronavirus. Several states did cut the number of polling site locations for their primaries this year. That means that it’s important to verify your polling place and its operating hours with your local election office website close to Election Day. Once you know, make a plan on how you will get there and when you will go. See below for our safety tips.
What about poll workers? Are they safe this year?
There are real concerns about poll worker shortages this year. That’s because poll workers are often elderly volunteers who are at the highest risk of developing severe complications due to the coronavirus.
To help offset these concerns and staffing shortages, though, several NBA arenas and MLB stadiums are being repurposed as large voting sites where social distancing will be easier to enforce. Groups like Lebron James’ group More Than a Vote and Power the Polls are helping train volunteer poll workers so that those with lower chances of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms are able to fill in staffing gaps where elderly poll workers cannot be present.
How can I find my polling place or know if it has changed?
Check with your local election office website close to and on Election Day to ensure you have up-to-date information. Also be sure that you are registered to vote at your current address as soon as possible.
What should I do to prepare to vote in person this year?
Note that there are 35 states currently enforcing laws that request or require voters to show some form of identification at the polls. Confirm with your local election office if you need any type of ID well in advance of Election Day, as you may need time to get yours straightened out.
What safety precautions should I take when heading to the polls?
When voting in person this year, exercise the same precautions you would if you were heading to the grocery store or other potentially crowded area. When waiting in line, obey social distancing rules. Bring hand sanitizer with you to use after touching high-contact surfaces. Always wear your mask. And avoid touching your face until you’ve had a chance to wash your hands. It can help to have all of these items packed in your car, purse, or backpack the night before.