With the United States presidential election fast approaching and the world still in the midst of a pandemic, it is important to consider how to exercise the democratic right of voting while staying safe. In this feature, we offer some tips and advice.
Voting is a democratic right and duty: it helps decide the direction that a country or a region’s economic, healthcare, and domestic and international policies take.
In the U.S., the upcoming presidential election — scheduled for November 3 — has been a top concern in the media.
While elections always offer fertile ground for debates and discussions, this year’s event has created even more of a buzz because it will take place during a world pandemic.
Scientists and medical doctors have not yet found a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that has caused the pandemic. Also, there is no targeted treatment for COVID-19, the respiratory disease that the virus causes, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives to date.
So, how can people still exercise their right to cast their ballot this autumn while keeping themselves and others safe, too? Read on for our top tips and advice.
If you would like to check your registration status or register to vote, we have added some useful links at the bottom of this article.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have drawn up an extensive guide informing polling stations and voters how to adhere to the best health and safety practices during this year’s presidential elections.
While many of the prevention strategies — such as frequently cleaning polling station surfaces — are in the hands of election officials and poll workers, there is a lot that voters themselves can do to stay safe.
The first consideration for voters is to determine whether or not they feel well physically. If a person feels well and has no symptoms of a potential viral infection, they may choose to vote in person at the polling station.
To ensure that their voting experience goes smoothly, a person might want to check that they have all the documentation they need to vote in their jurisdiction before heading to the polling station.
Fill in any necessary forms in advance, if possible. All of this can help avoid unnecessary delays and standing in line.
To avoid long lines on election day, people could also choose to vote early, if that option is available in their jurisdiction.
For those who want to vote on the day, reporting to the polling station at off-peak times, such as mid-morning, might reduce waiting time.
Information on what voting entails, and what documents and ID a person needs to vote in the U.S. presidential election is available here.
Other safety measures are the same as the CDC advice in any other context. These include maintaining a physical distance of at least 6 feet from others if standing in line and keeping hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content handy.
Individuals should wash their hands before and after entering the polling station, if possible, and use hand sanitizer before and after touching objects or surfaces.
Good hand washing practices and the use of hand sanitizer can help kill viruses and any potentially harmful bacteria.
Wearing a face mask or other face covering in public settings is also an important step in preventing the spread of the new coronavirus, as CDC guidelines explain. This applies to polling station settings as well.
Children younger than 2 and people who have difficulty breathing should not wear a mask or face covering.
Finally, people may also want to bring their own black ink pen and electronic stylus to the polling station instead of using one provided at the venue. However, not all polling stations allow this, so individuals should check in advance.
When asked about best voting practices, Healthline adviser Dr. Angela Bell said that one of her “top tips” is voting early. She also said to “wear your mask, stay at least 6 feet away from people when possible, avoid contact with people not wearing masks, bring hand sanitizer with you, [and] consider eye protection like goggles if you live in an area where there are high amounts of daily cases or if there is no mask mandate in your area.”
She also advised readers to “wear comfortable shoes, bring a portable chair to sit in if you are concerned about long lines, [and] try to get familiar with who and what is on your ballot prior to getting into the building so you spend less time making choices in the booth.”
For information on how to vote safely, download our Safe Voting Guide here:
Voting by mail-in ballot
An alternative to voting in person may be to vote by mail. Some states will allow citizens to vote by mail, but others may not, so people should check with their local or state election office to confirm.
People who choose a mail-in option may still be able to deliver their ballot to the polling station in person.
Best practices for those who choose to drop off a mail-in ballot in person include being in good health, wearing a mask or face covering when they go to the polling station and using hand sanitizer after touching any surfaces, such as that of the mail slot.
Always maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet from others when waiting in line.
If a person feels or has recently felt unwell, they should not go out to a polling station to protect their own and others’ health.
In these cases, they may be able to vote through an absentee ballot. People can check whether this is an option in their state and how it works here.
While voting is a key democratic process, many people in the U.S. do not take part in it. As Medical News Today has discussed in a previous feature, some groups are more likely to report to the polling stations than others.
According to existing research, white people are more likely to vote than Black, Latinx, and Asian American people.
Black, Latinx, and Asian American individuals are disproportionately more likely than white people to develop certain health conditions and less likely to receive appropriate healthcare and support.
According to a 2020 review, people with health conditions are less likely to vote than those with good health status. While it remains unclear why this may be the case, researchers have issued several hypotheses.
One key hypothesis suggests that people who experience poor health may experience more social isolation, which might negatively influence their motivation to participate in elections.
Yet, this lack of participation could lead to a vicious circle, meaning that these groups experience further isolation and continue to lack opportunities.
One reason for this is that taking an active role in the democratic process of voting can affect the kind and quality of available healthcare. In this year’s U.S. elections, healthcare has been at the center of many debates.
Researchers from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in San Francisco, CA, have pointed out — in an article that appears in JAMA Health Forum— that healthcare seems to be one of the top concerns of U.S. citizens in the run-up to this year’s presidential election.
Some of the topics that American people feel strongly about include the fate of Medicare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the direction that healthcare costs might take going forward. All of these issues are at stake during this election.
This is why it is so important for individuals to cast their votes — it could sway the direction and quality of healthcare for years to come. Moreover, election results can also impact future policymaking, which could help shift negative attitudes towards healthcare or health conditions.
“We are at a crossroads in America with this election. The impact of the results will be huge. We need a president who will unite us around the fact that good quality healthcare is a right that shouldn’t depend on how much money you make, what you look like, or where you live.”
– Dr. Angela Bell
So, on the eve of elections, let us consider what is important to us, and what changes we would like to see in healthcare. And let us stay safe, and keep others safe, too.
To check your voter registration status, click here to visit the website of VoteAmerica, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing voter turnout. They can also help you register to vote, vote by mail, request an absentee ballot, or find your polling place.