Much of the focus on voting in the upcoming election these days is on mail-in voting. And rightly so.
As a state and as a nation, we don’t have much experience relying heavily on the process of absentee balloting to determine the outcome of elections.
But while it’s easier, more convenient and safer from a public health perspective for people to vote by mail, a lot of voters will still prefer to vote in person.
State and county governments must be prepared to deal with a large number of in-person voters, to keep voters and poll workers safe, and to ensure voters won’t have to wait in long lines or be denied the opportunity to participate.
The nonpartisan Brennan Center public policy institute, working with the Infectious Diseases Society of America, has come up with some best practices for boards of elections and local and state officials to follow.
First, they recommend trying to maintain or expand the number of voting locations to keep too many voters from having to use a single location.
Polling places located in places where the spread of the coronavirus could be particularly harmful, such as senior centers and schools where classes are in session, should be moved. Identify and secure the polling places now.
The places need to be well-ventilated and big enough (convention centers, gymnasiums, parking garages, fire stations) to accommodate social distancing. Where possible, boards should consider outdoor venues and curbside voting.
Plexiglas dividers should be placed between voting booths and between poll workers. There should be separate entrances and exits to minimize people passing one another. And hand sanitizer should be available, and provisions should be made to sanitize all voting machines and voting areas.
Poll workers should be equipped with personal protection equipment and gloves, and have access to testing should they develop symptoms.
Of course, everyone in the polling place should be compelled to social distance and wear masks, and free masks should be available to all voters.
Early-voting should be expanded to more locations and hours in order to reduce the concentration of voters on Election Day and reduce the opportunities for voter contact.
Finally, because the credibility of our elections is fundamental to our democracy, the state must provide funding to counties to help them offset the cost of these necessary measures. This is not the place or time to be pinching pennies.
Securing the mail-in voting process is, of course, vitally important this year.
But there’s another important part of the process that can’t be overlooked.
We need to act now to make in-person voting as safe and secure as possible.