The United States of America will hold its general election in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Gear Up to VoteSafe, a non-partisan initiative formed by RESOLVE, VoteSafe, and Mission for Masks, seeks to help voting centers across the country operate as safely as possible throughout this pandemic, while making sure every American can exercise their right to vote. The following guidance, developed by OSMS, was prepared by reviewing the latest COVID-19 transmission research and public health guidance from the CDC and other medical sources.
Crowd management will be a considerable challenge for polling places that expect to experience large surges of voters. It is extremely important that a minimum distance of 6 feet be maintained between all people at all times, even though this may create long lines. Incorporating the following strategies will ensure that all voters and workers remain adequately distanced from one another:
- Place markings on the floor (tape, chalk, decals, etc.) at 6-foot increments along lines to remind voters to stand appropriately 6-feet apart from each other. Consider using crowd control stanchions and fences spaced 6 feet apart to direct lines appropriately.
- Use physical barriers such as transparent partitions, crowd control stanchions and deployable fences to keep people from interacting too closely when voluntary social distancing may be difficult, such as near registration tables.
- Encourage voters to use face masks while in the polling location with signs at the entrances to lines and buildings.
- Encourage voters to leave at least 6 feet of space between themselves and others, and include this message on signs at the entrances to lines and buildings as a visual reminder.
- Some jurisdictions may require voters to remove their masks as part of the identification process. Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol should be provided at the station so voters can sanitize their hands before removing their mask. A transparent partition/plexiglass barrier between the voter and the poll worker can provide additional protection at this station.
- Modify the polling location layout to ensure voters move in only one direction while completing the voting process. Use separate doors for entry and exit, and make sure these are clearly marked to prevent bottlenecks.
- Increase distance between voting booths to ensure that voters remain a minimum of 6 feet apart.
- Discourage voters and workers from greeting others with physical contact (handshakes, hugs, etc.), and also include this reminder on signs.
- Support communication for those who have hearing impairments with posted, written instructions and at least a few workers with face shields or clear masks for lip-reading.
- If a voter needs assistance, the poll worker should maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet while addressing the issue.
- Poll workers should place the “I voted” stickers (if available) on a surface where the voter can pick it up individually without touching other stickers (like the edges of a table or counter). The poll worker should then ask the voter to use hand sanitizer, and direct the voter to the appropriate exit.
Appropriate environmental strategies ensure the polling location is adequately ventilated and properly cleaned and disinfected to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Careful consideration must be given to the cleaning and disinfecting of high-contact surfaces, shared items and voting equipment, as these are riskier due to the number of people who touch these items and the potential for virus particles to remain on the surface. Implementing the following guidelines will help provide a safer polling location for voters and poll workers:
- It is important to increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, by opening windows and doors, and drawing outdoor air instead of recirculating indoor air through the ventilation system.
- Inspect ventilation HVAC systems professionally and replace the filters with MERV-13 filter or higher to ensure proper operation and virus filtration prior to allowing voters into the facility.
- The HVAC should be running when the space is occupied. If the HVAC system cycles on/off with the thermostat, run the fan constantly during occupied hours.
- Bathroom exhaust fans should be left on. If bathroom exhaust fans are controlled by manual switches, set the switch to “on” and use signage that directs not to change the setting. If there are no exhaust fans in the bathrooms, leave doors propped open to increase air circulation.
- If there is no mechanical ventilation system available in the building or room, consider installing portable HEPA filters or air purifiers in occupied spaces to clear the air of virus particles.
- Consider portable air cleaners/filters in locations with more vulnerable staff (advanced age, underlying medical conditions).
Cleaning and Disinfecting
- Surfaces that are frequently touched by multiple people, for example door handles, registration tables, pens, and clipboards, voting machines and stations should be disinfected frequently using products with EPA-approved disinfectants. Look for products containing 70% alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or quaternary ammonium (ex: bleach sprays, alcohol wipes, peroxide sprays, etc.).
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (concentration, application method, use of personal protective equipment).
- If the surface is dirty, it should be cleaned (remove visible dirt, grease, etc.) before disinfecting.
- Public restrooms should be cleaned and disinfected routinely.
- After the polling location closes, thoroughly clean and disinfect all facility areas and items, including all tables, chairs, door handles, and restrooms, used by poll workers or voters.
Guidance for shared objects/equipment
- Poll workers must be provided guidance relating to their duties of cleaning and disinfecting the polling location. Elections officials should provide a schedule of cleaning duties for the poll workers at the polling location, and must ensure that the necessary cleaning and disinfecting supplies are readily available.
- Minimize handling of shared objects. For example, reusable ballot activation cards or ballot sleeves can be deposited into a container instead of being handed off to a poll worker.
- Where possible, replace shared objects, like pens or ballot activation cards, with single-use objects. If these objects must be shared, they should be disinfected between users.
- Other shared objects like voting machines, laptops, tablets, and keyboards should also be disinfected thoroughly and routinely. Hand sanitizer should be placed near shared objects for public or worker use after touching said objects.
- Follow the equipment manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and disinfection procedures for voting machines and electronics. Alcohol-based wipes or spray containing at least 70% alcohol can be used to clean voting machine buttons and touch screens, if no manufacturer guidance is available. Thoroughly dry surfaces to avoid pooling of liquids.
- Items to be reviewed, such as poll books or identification, should be placed on a table for visual examination to minimize handling.
- Headphones for voters with disabilities should be single-use or disinfected between users.
- After the polling location closes, all equipment and transport cases should be cleaned and disinfected according to the manufacturer’s instructions before the equipment is returned to the election office.
Precautions for Poll Workers and PPE Guidance
Poll workers should adhere to the proper use of face masks or respirators and any additional PPE they are provided in order to prevent themselves from getting sick, and in order to prevent potential infection of voters. Frequent hand sanitizing and enforcing a minimum distance of 6 feet between others are essential in supporting a safer experience for voters and other poll workers. The following guidance will help poll workers perform their duties safely:
- Mask use is critically important to public health, especially in crowded indoor areas. Encourage the use of masks provided by Gear Up to VoteSafe among all workers.
- Encourage poll workers to maintain a minimum of 6 feet of distance between other poll workers and voters, even when offering assistance.
- Educate poll workers on proper hand hygiene: poll workers must wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if handwashing is not feasible. Poll workers should also wash their hands, or use hand sanitizer, before entering the polling location, before and after breaks or shifts, after touching or handling masks or PPE, after using the restroom, and after touching shared surfaces or objects.
- Poll workers should also be instructed to cough/sneeze into their elbow or tissue, avoid touching their face with their hands, avoid physical contact with others, etc.
- Provide guidance for poll workers on cleaning and disinfection, and establish a schedule for these tasks.
- Provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol for use in situations where voters interact with poll workers (registration table, after using the voting machine, after providing assistance, after receiving ballots, etc.).
- Place alcohol-based hand sanitizer in visible, frequently used locations such as registration desks, voting machines, and exits.
- Poll workers and voters should ensure their hands are completely dry after sanitizing to avoid damaging paper ballots.
- Information should be provided to workers on proper use of and removal of masks, face shields, etc.
- Explanation of PPE Kit/Distribution of kit (N95, face shield, hand sanitizer).
- How to appropriately use PPE (eg: donning/doffing procedures, and disposal).
Preparing for Scenarios
A voter may enter the polling location without a face mask – some may have forgotten their mask, and some may be unwilling to wear a mask. Poll workers should be provided with simple messages to address this situation: “Would you like a mask?” (if extra masks are available for voters) and if not, “We respect your right to vote, and you’ll be checked in and allowed to vote. We’ll need you to maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from others. Please give us a bit of time to organize the voting area to allow additional physical distance between you, our election workers and other voters.”
The following steps must then be taken to appropriately handle this scenario and prepare for possible occurrences:
- Poll workers should notify other poll workers that a voter without a mask will be checking in. It is recommended that another poll worker is also present when communicating with a voter without a mask.
- Poll workers should send the voter to a check-in station that has the most distance between it and other stations. If that station is not available, the poll worker should ask the voter to stand to the side until it is available.
- After checking in, the voter can be sent to a voting booth at an appropriate distance from other booths.
- Poll workers must be aware that other voters may try to escalate the situation. The poll worker should address the situation by reassuring other voters that their health and safety is important and remind everyone to maintain 6 feet of distance.
- Be prepared for tempers to flare. Elections officials should provide procedures for seeking additional support if necessary.
- Poll workers should have phone numbers for the next level of authority (building security or law enforcement) and be ready to call them quickly if the situation escalates.
- In addition, poll workers can agree ahead of time on a way to ask for back-up by using a code phrase. For example, asking a fellow election worker “Is Jane here?” (where no one named Jane is working) can be an agreed code phrase for a call to security or law enforcement.
Election Observers: As in all elections, observers must be accommodated.
- Election observers should be provided with the same PPE as poll workers. They should follow the same instructions for hand sanitizing and social distancing.
- Space should be made for observation while still maintaining 6 feet of physical distance.
- Observers will need to be able to view check-ins and scanning, and may need to look at the voting equipment periodically. Interaction between observers and others in the polling location should be minimized.
- If an observer refuses to adhere to guidelines in place at the polling location, the precinct inspector should notify the office of the county elections official for further action.
Quick Tips for Voters (Print this 3 x 5 Card)
View and print a 3×5 card for voters:
- Considerations for Election Polling Locations and Voters (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Pollworker Training: Working Elections During COVID-19 (Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project)
- Health and Safety at the Polling Place (U.S. Election Assistance Commission)
- Requirements for Serving as a Poll Worker (U.S. Election Assistance Commission)
- In-Person Voting (U.S. Election Assistance Commission)
- COVID-19 (National Association of State Election Directors)
- Section 1– COVID-19 Poll Worker Safety (California Secretary of State)
- GUIDANCE FOR POLLING PLACE HVAC SYSTEMS (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers)