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Created by: Shayan Bagheban
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From devastating wildfires to global pandemics, 2020 has undeniably earned its place in history as one of the most impactful years on record, and with a U.S. presidential election looming on the horizon, the turbulent trajectory shows no signs of slowing down. The recent surge in confirmed cases of coronavirus has understandably exacerbated health and safety concerns among voters, as the average number of daily cases has increased by nearly 20% over the last 14 days[1]. Likewise, the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 in the United States has exceeded 215,000, surpassing the number of American soldiers killed during the nation’s five most recent wars combined[2].

Despite the imminent threat posed by the coronavirus, voting remains an essential civic duty and one of the fundamental responsibilities of every citizen. Americans who cast a vote in this election will be among the first to have done so during a pandemic in over 50 years[3]. Having taken everything into consideration, the American people are now faced with a pressing question: is it safe to participate in the 2020 election? The answer is yes, but the exact manner in which a given voter should cast their ballot depends on a number of unique personal factors, such as age, underlying health conditions and the rate of COVID-19 transmission in their local community. Luckily, voting in-person on November 3rd is not the only option, as voters have access to a few different choices depending on their state or district. In fact, as of now, over 14 million Americans have already cast their ballots[4]. Considering the unique circumstances surrounding this election, it’s more important than ever that people understand their individual voting rights as well as the alternatives to traditional voting at their disposal. 

For prospective voters with underlying health conditions, mail-in voting is by far the safest way to cast a ballot while minimizing the possibility of exposure to COVID-19. The same can be said for anyone with a greater risk for severe illness and complications as a result of contracting the coronavirus, such as older Americans and those with diabetes or asthma. Millions of Americans are planning to vote by mail this year, and this election is projected to have the highest percentage of mail-in ballots in American history. In fact, professor Michael McDonald of the University of Florida Department of Political Science predicts that at least 50 percent of the total votes cast in the 2020 election will be mail-in ballots[5]

Due to the pandemic, virtually every state is adapting to offer some form of mail-in voting for this election. In nine states, every registered voter will automatically receive a mail-in ballot at their listed residence. This includes California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, New Jersey, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. In 36 states, a mail-in ballot can be sent to any registered voter upon request. Some of these states ask that you provide a reason for requesting a mail-in ballot, and fear of contracting COVID-19 is recognized as a legitimate justification. 5 states — Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas — require that voters provide a reason for their mail-in ballot request but do not accept concern for the coronavirus as a valid excuse. Reasons such as illness or travel are generally accepted for these states, but you can refer to this National Conference of State Legislatures Voter Resource Table to verify your state’s unique mail-in voting and absentee policies and restrictions for the 2020 election. 

Voters also have the ability to fill out their mail-in ballot at home and deliver it in person by dropping it off at an official ballot drop-box. This is a great way to ensure that your ballot gets delivered while still avoiding the lengthy voting lines and minimizing the potential risk of exposure to COVID-19. As long as you’re able to verify the legitimacy of an official ballot box ahead of time, this method of casting your vote can serve as a safe and convenient alternative to voting in person on November 3rd. 

For many Americans, voting in person is a cherished right and tradition, and those concerned that their ballot might get lost in the mail might prefer to cast their vote in person. Fortunately, there are still ways to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 if you choose to vote in person. In accordance with COVID-19 safety guidance, most states are offering early voting, with some allowing voters to cast their ballots as early as September. Voting early is an excellent way to ensure your vote is received while reducing potential exposure to the virus by avoiding large crowds. Voters are not required to provide a reason or excuse in order to vote early. Visit vote.org to find out if and when your state will be offering early voting for this election. 

If you do plan on voting in person on election day, it’s imperative that you abide by regional COVID-19 health and safety procedures. This includes voting at a time of day when your precinct is likely to be less crowded, such as early morning or mid-afternoon. In-person voters should also do their best to wear a mask and maintain a distance of at least six feet between themselves and other voters and poll-workers while waiting in line and when filling out their ballot. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after casting your vote, and avoid touching your face until after you’ve washed your hands. Alternatively, you can use an alcohol based hand sanitizer if you don’t have immediate access to a restroom. 

As with everything else in 2020, this election will be considerably different from what we’re normally used to, and acclimating to a new normal can be understandably challenging. Voting is a fundamental part of the American democracy, and it is crucial that the will of the people of the United States is clearly articulated and received. By understanding the alternatives to in-person voting this year, Americans can respectively choose the method of voting that works best for them as it pertains to the health, safety and wellbeing of their family and community.

Sources

  1. The New York Times. “Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html
  2. Yan, Holly. “200,000 People Have Died from Covid-19 in the US. That’s More than the US Battle Deaths from 5 Wars Combined.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Sept. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/09/22/health/us-coronavirus-deaths-200k/index.html
  3. LaMotte, Sandee. “Voting Safety: How to Protect Yourself from Covid-19 While Casting Your Ballot.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Sept. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/09/01/health/voting-safety-covid-19-2020-election-wellness-trnd/index.html
  4. Evelyn, Kenya. “Record Turnout as Americans Endure Long Waits to Vote Early in 2020 Election.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Oct. 2020, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/oct/14/us-election-record-turnout-early-voting.  
  5. Medintz, Scott. “Your Guide to Voting During the Pandemic.” Consumer Reports, 17 Sept. 2020, www.consumerreports.org/voting/guide-to-voting-during-the-pandemic/.