Here's What To Consider About Voting — Safely — During The Pandemic

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With more than 1.5 million confirmed cases across the United States as of May 20, the coronavirus pandemic has caused many states to postpone their 2020 primaries. But as experts project the coronavirus will likely continue to spread over the summer, simply postponing primaries may not be sufficient — instead, states will have to adapt to make voting safer for their residents. If you're wondering how to vote safely during coronavirus, you have a few options, and there are precautions you can take if you do have to go vote in person.

Firstly — if you have the option to vote by mail, you should take it. According to The New York Times, voters in many states will be able to vote by mail in 2020. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — are planning to run all federal, state, and local elections entirely by mail. On May 8, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his plans to send mail-in ballots to all 20.6 million voters across the state for the November election, making it the first state to change its voting structure in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, California is not running the November election solely by mail — according to CNN, in-person voting will still be an option for people who are not comfortable mailing in a ballot.

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The New York Times reported that more than two dozen other states, along with Washington, D.C., will allow their voters to request mail-in ballots for any reason in November. But in more than a dozen states, voters must provide a valid excuse to receive a mail-in ballot, though FiveThirtyEight reported that some states may move to accept concerns related to the pandemic as a reason to vote by mail. On May 19, for example, a federal judge ruled that Texans fearing infection at polling places could request an absentee ballot under the Texas election code's "disability" provision. Texas Republicans have argued that this expansion in voting by mail could lead to voter fraud, but according to NBC News, there is no data to support this.

If you currently live in a state that has not made vote-by-mail widely accessible, however, you should still be able to vote at a physical polling place — but given the ongoing pandemic, there are several precautions you should take. If your state gives you the opportunity to vote early, take it, because early voting locations can reduce the number of people heading to the polls on a given day. Some states also offer curbside voting options for voters who can't easily leave their cars, so check with your state or local election commission to see whether this option is available to you.

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Whether you're voting early or on Election Day, you should ensure that you maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and other voters, both in line and at the voting booths. Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D, a microbiology and immunology professor at Columbia University's Irving Medical Center, tells Elite Daily that large groups of people can be a risk.

"You can get [the coronavirus] by breathing in the air from someone else, so stay your distance from other people," Racaniello says. "You can get it from contaminated surfaces. Those are the two main ways that we know." As of May 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its coronavirus guidance to indicate the virus primarily spreads through person-to-person contact, and that it "does not spread easily" from touching contaminated surfaces or objects — but the CDC still notes it "may be possible" for the coronavirus to spread after touching a contaminated surface and they are "still learning about the virus." So it's important to wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol after touching surfaces like door handles or voting machines.

According to Racaniello, being mindful of the surfaces you're touching is critical, and you should avoid touching your face as much as possible, especially if you haven't washed your hands. "You have to just be cognizant — you may not think about all the different surfaces you touch in a single day," he says. Racaniello adds that the virus can also contaminate clothing — for example, if you're standing near somebody and they cough or sneeze on you — so you may even want to wash your clothes when you get home.

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Even as some states begin to implement reopening measures, Rachael Piltch-Loeb, Ph.D, a preparedness fellow at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, warns that existing data does not support doing so quite yet. That's why it's so important to follow CDC guidelines by wearing a mask or other face covering to minimize the spread of respiratory droplets, and to continue practicing social distancing.

"The lifting of social distancing measures is giving a false sense that the virus has left us," Piltch-Loeb says. "This will likely increase the perception that people can socialize as usual, when really we need to be maintaining at least some elements of social distancing in order to limit the case burden." Many states are currently working toward safer voting solutions in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but in the meantime, taking these precautions will help keep you and your neighbors safe.

Your voice matters. So does your vote. Make sure both are heard and counted in the 2020 election by registering to vote right now.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.

Experts cited:

Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D, Higgins Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Rachael Piltch-Loeb, Ph.D, preparedness fellow at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health