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CDC voting safety guidelines support mail, early balloting

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that voters consider alternatives to casting their ballots in person during upcoming elections, as states expand absentee and early voting options for November amid fears of spreading the coronavirus. 

The guidance was issued with little fanfare on June 22 and suggested that state and local election officials take steps to minimize crowds at voting locations, including offering "alternative voting methods." President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that one popular alternative - mail-in ballots - promotes widespread voter fraud.

Voters who want to cast ballots in person should consider showing up at off-peak times, bringing their own black ink pens or touch-screen pens for voting machines, and washing their hands before entering and after leaving the polling location, the guidance said. Workers and voters alike, it said, should wear face coverings.

The guidance aims to help voters, poll workers and election officials take precautions to minimize the spread of the virus, which has already disrupted some primary elections this year and could be a source of turmoil in the upcoming presidential election.

The guidance is now being circulated by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), an independent federal agency, and congressional leaders. Senate Democrats on Tuesday drew attention to the guidelines, noting that they had been requesting such a resource since May.

The CDC guidelines were developed with the help of election officials who had shared the limitations and opportunities they observed throughout this year's primaries, as well as public health experts who shared updated research about the virus, said EAC Chairman Ben Hovland.

"We just know a lot more about what a polling place needs to look like during COVID than we did just a few months ago," Hovland said.

He said a combination of options need to be made available to voters, including voting by mail, early voting and safe procedures around voting in person.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, who led an effort to request the guidance, welcomed it in a statement Tuesday.

"In the midst of this pandemic, voters should not need to choose between their health and casting their ballots," Klobuchar said. "This guidance from the CDC makes it clear that the government must take steps to protect voters."

Klobuchar said she has introduced legislation to expand mail-in balloting to every voter and to ensure that people can vote at least 20 days before Election Day in an effort to reduce lines.

"I'm glad to see CDC issue this vital guidance, which is an important step in the right direction that will help protect citizens' ability to vote," Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in a statement. "But this still only scratches the surface." She and others in her party plan to push for more federal funding to protect the fall elections, she said.

But the expansion of mail ballots has become increasingly controversial, drawing sharp opposition from Trump and his allies who, without evidence, say mail-in ballots are susceptible to widespread ballot fraud and other cheating.

"MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE. IT WILL ALSO LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY," Trump tweeted in May.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb and the country prepares for the potential of a "second wave" of cases in the fall just before the elections, election officials are grappling with safety and health precautions that they and voters need to take to ensure that elections will be conducted safely and efficiently in November.

States have raced to find alternatives to in-person voting for the primaries and ahead of November because of the spread of the novel coronavirus, implementing changes that include dramatically expanded vote-by-mail options and consolidating polling places.

In some states, recent primaries have led to mass consolidation of polling places and hours-long lines for voters because of a shortage of poll workers, many of whom fear the risk of contracting the coronavirus on Election Day.

The new CDC guidance also provides recommendations for moving polling locations and reassigning high-risk poll workers to minimize potential exposure to the virus. For example, the CDC said election workers should protect those at risk for severe illness by relocating polling places away from nursing homes, long-term-care facilities and senior living homes.

 

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