Election Day — Nov. 3 — is just a couple 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 judgement, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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.