Election Day — Nov. 3 — is less than two weeks away, and if you haven’t already, it’s time to decide how you’ll cast your ballot. Because of the pandemic, the Pennsylvania Department of Health encourages voting by mail this year, and there’s still time to request an absentee or mail-in ballot. The deadline to apply is Oct. 27 (by 5 p.m.). In New Jersey, all active, registered voters should automatically receive mail ballots.
But if you prefer to vote in person, you’re not alone, and health experts say you shouldn’t let the pandemic stop you from doing so.
“I don’t think it’s any riskier than going to the grocery store, unless someone’s standing in line next to you not wearing a mask, and at that point you have to use a bit of judgment, just like at the store — try to distance yourself, and come back at another time if that’s feasible,” says Dr. Eric Sachinwalla, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
First and foremost, remember the basics:
Wear a mask
Distance yourself from others (6+ feet)
Wash your hands before entering and after leaving the polling station
Here are some other tips to make voting in person safer during the pandemic:
Double check your voting location and its requirements.
Both may have changed because of COVID-19. To find your polling place in Pennsylvania, visit vote.org/polling-place-locator. To find your polling place in New Jersey, visit voter.svrs.nj.gov/polling-place-search.
Use hand sanitizer after touching shared surfaces, including door handles and voting machines.
Choose a sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Note: Electronic voting equipment can be damaged by disinfectants. Don’t put sanitizer on voting equipment, and make sure your hands are dry before touching it.
Vote at off-peak times.
If able, avoid early morning and evening hours that bookend the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work shift. Steer clear of the hours around noon, too, to bypass lunch crowds.
Have all necessary documents needed to vote ready upon arrival to speed up the process.
In Pennsylvania, if you’ve voted at your polling place before (even if it moved), you don’t need to show ID. But if you’re a first-time voter or you moved within the state, you must show ID to vote. Acceptable forms of ID can be found at votespa.com/Register-to-Vote/Pages/Voter-ID-for-First-Time-Voters.aspx. If you applied for and received a mail-in ballot, you must also bring that with you (both envelopes included) and surrender it to a poll worker.
In New Jersey, you don’t need to bring your ID or mail-in ballot. In-person voters will fill out a provisional ballot, which will be counted after mail-in ballots are tallied and election officials determine that you haven’t already voted by mail.
Review a sample ballot at home.
Come prepared with your candidate choices and ballot question answers to minimize time spent inside. For ballot samples, visit philadelphiavotes.com/en/voters/candidates-for-office (Philadelphia), ballotpedia.org/Pennsylvania_Sample_Ballot (Pa.) or ballotpedia.org/New_Jersey_Sample_Ballot (N.J.).
Remain outside of the polling station for as long as possible until instructed to enter.
Outdoor spaces are considered less risky for coronavirus spread than indoor spaces, where it’s often harder to keep people distanced and there’s less ventilation.
Look for tape or markers that indicate where you should stand.
Many polling stations will have markers spaced six feet apart to help enforce social distancing, and the Pennsylvania Department of State is providing all counties with tape.
If someone shows up behind you without a mask, step out of line if time allows.
All voters are asked to wear face coverings, and many polling stations will provide masks to voters who don’t have one. But the right to vote supersedes Pennsylvania mask mandates. If you show up at the same time as someone who’s not wearing a mask, do your best to distance yourself, which may require stepping out of line.
Leave nonvoters at home.
Bringing your kids with you allows you to introduce them to the process and importance of voting. But this year, minimizing crowds takes precedent, so leave all little ones, or anyone who’s not participating, at home when possible.
Don’t linger after voting.
While you can socialize in line with your neighbors, now’s not the time to hang around the polling booth after casting your ballot. Get in and get out, so that you can make room for others and make social distancing easier.