Empty voting booths

Voting During the Pandemic

5 min read • Apr 28, 2020 • Derek Miller

The coronavirus has swept across the country, putting residents in most states and cities in some form of lockdown. Unfortunately, the outbreak arrived right in the middle of the election season. 

While some states held their primaries in February (like Iowa and New Hampshire), others (like Florida) moved forward despite the pandemic. Other states have pushed their primaries back to May and June because of COVID-19. 

The pandemic is changing how we vote, but it shouldn’t limit the ability of US citizens to cast their ballots. The value of primary elections extends beyond who is running for president in 2020. 

The primaries also narrow the field for down-ballot races related to senate seats, mayoral races, and municipal boards. These local elections have arguably more of an impact on the average person’s daily life than whoever is sitting in the Oval Office. 

Follow these tips to make sure you cast your ballot in time—in the safest way possible. 

Learn Your New Primary Date and Requirements 

While you may have marked the original primary date on your calendar, you need to check if the coronavirus has caused changes in your state. Already, 16 states have changed their primary dates, switched to only mail-in ballots, or extended voting deadlines because of the pandemic.

These 16 states include Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has an updated list of state primaries in both chronological and alphabetical order. This list makes it easy to locate your election dates and what you will be voting on. 

The uncertainty of this pandemic means these dates could change—so check often to see if yours has. For example, as of writing, Nebraska still plans to hold its primary May 12. Depending on the progress of the pandemic in that state, legislatures may decide to push it back or change how people cast their ballots.

Wisconsin received backlash for moving forward with its primary election April 7, despite residents trying to self-isolate during the outbreak—so you should expect other states to err on the side of caution.

Register to Vote by Mail if Possible

Many states allow residents to send an absentee ballot, also known as voting by mail, instead of voting in person. This option allows voters to do their research at home and vote on their own time. 

During the COVID-19 outbreak, some states have moved to vote entirely by mail (Kansas), while others have extended the deadline to submit mail-in ballots (Ohio). 

The ACLU has a useful state-by-state guide to see who can vote by mail. Check to see if you qualify. A few examples of how mail-in voting differs by state include:

  • Georgia: any voter can vote by mail
  • Alaska: any registered Democrat can vote by mail   
  • Connecticut: only voters who meet certain criteria (like people traveling out of town, those with physical disabilities, and those who are ill) can vote by mail

The ACLU also offers tips for voting by mail safely, like not licking the envelope to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19. 

Check to See if Your Polling Place is Still Open

The day before the election, make sure your polling place is still open. In Florida, many polling places were consolidated as poll workers didn’t feel safe during the election. This change meant that voters arrived at their polling locations to find them closed and empty. 

Check ahead to see if your polling place is still open or if the location has changed.  

Give Yourself Extra Time to Vote 

Rushing can lead to voting mistakes or bypassing safety precautions put in place for you and others at your polling place. Therefore, you should give yourself ample time when you go to vote.

If polling places are consolidated in your area, it could mean longer lines or a less convenient voting location. Voting may also take more time as the poll workers are taking safety measures to sanitize each booth. There may be more directions to follow (like standing 6 feet away from other voters) that have been added to your state because of the virus. 

Be patient with the poll workers and other voters and try to follow directions as best as you can. This experience is unprecedented for everyone involved. 

Prepare Your Protective Gear Now 

As you research the candidates and decide who you plan to vote for, gather your protective gear so you can vote safely. This preparation includes a sanitized black pen, gloves, hand sanitizer, and a clean face mask. You may also want to wear pants and a long-sleeve shirt that you will take off and wash after you return from the polling location. 

The poll workers are taking their own measures to keep voters safe, but you can prevent the spread of the virus and protect yourself by preparing your own gear. Plus, by gathering these items now, you won’t miss voting in case you can’t find them on election day. 

Encourage Others to Vote!

Don’t let the coronavirus prevent your voice from counting. Vote in your primary or run-off elections and make sure other people have the information they need to make an educated decision that can impact the future of your community.

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Derek Miller

Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at Great.com, the co-founder of Lofty Llama, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy, Score.org, and StartupCamp.