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How to Vote Safely During a Pandemic

As Election Day nears, you may be wondering how to minimize your risk of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) while performing your civic duty. Here’s what you need to know on (or before) Nov. 3.

How to Vote by Mail

If you live in an area where virus transmission is high or you are at high risk for COVID-19 complications, you may want to consider obtaining an absentee ballot and voting by mail.

All states offer some form of voting by mail, and many are expanding their vote-by-mail options or automatically mailing all registered voters an absentee ballot for the general election. In other states, you may need to request an absentee ballot. (The terms “vote by mail” and “voting absentee” refer to the same process of submitting a ballot by mail rather than voting in person.)

Be sure to verify your state’s rules and deadlines for absentee voting.

To ensure your mail-in ballot arrives in time, you can deliver it in person to your local elections office or a designated drop-off location. Be sure to wear a mask and remain at least 6 feet from other people (if there is a line to drop off your ballot), and use hand sanitizer as soon as you get back inside your car. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when you get home.

How to Vote Early in Person

If you can’t vote by mail or prefer not to, try to vote early. Most states have a period of early voting that allows you to cast your vote in person when there are smaller crowds and lines.

Again, be sure to wear a mask, practice physical distancing, use hand sanitizer and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when you get home.

How to Remain Safe When Voting in Person on Election Day

If you vote on Election Day, be sure to plan ahead. Call your polling station to determine what safety measures will be in place. These should include 6-feet spacing markers, a mandatory mask requirement for both voters and poll workers, and frequent sanitizing of high-touch surfaces, such as door handles and voting booths.

Voting in person can be safe—just make sure that mask compliance is required and that you can achieve at least 6 feet of distancing from other people, says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention.

“Make sure there are options for hand hygiene (for example, a bottle of hand sanitizer) so you can go in with clean hands and also are able to clean your hands on your way out,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.

If you are older than 65 or have a serious underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, consider one of the other voting options.

Finally, use hand sanitizer as soon as you get to your car, and wash your hands with soap as soon as you get home.

“Hand hygiene is very important,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “There will be items that you touch when you are voting—the pen and the table. So hand hygiene on the way in and hand hygiene on the way out is really the key.”


For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.