If you’re planning on voting in person on Nov. 3, you might have concerns about whether it’s safe to do so in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are many precautions you can take to ensure your ballot is cast safely, and there are also measures being taken at polling places to help keep voters safe.
Bryan Johnston, a family physician who practices on the North Side, encourages people to vote by absentee ballot, or early at polling places, if possible. Johnston said these are the safest methods, and it’s also guaranteed your vote will be received.
“Do it early,” Johnston said. “It’s less crowded, and there’s shorter lines.”
It may already be too late to vote by mail. Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, told the Journal Sentinel in September that it could take up to seven days for your ballot to arrive at your municipal clerk’s office.
Tuesday was seven days before the election, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that ballots that arrive after Nov. 3 can’t be counted in Wisconsin.
One reliable method for early voting, though, is to drop your absentee ballot off at a drop box, located at one of the Milwaukee library branches, as well as the City Hall complex and one other site at 1901 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
If someone develops symptoms of COVID-19 before the election, they’ll face additional barriers to voting.
Johnston said that while health professionals don’t normally advocate for wearing N95 masks because of how difficult it is to get them, this would be a situation where he would urge people to wear them if they have them.
N95 masks, which are more expensive than normal cloth masks, can help keep the wearer safe from breathing the airborne particles containing the coronavirus. These masks are different from cloth and disposable masks, which prevent the wearer from spreading the disease but don’t protect them from catching it.
Johnston said there’s no reliable way to get N95 masks, but hardware stores may have some available.
The Milwaukee Election Commission is taking precautions at its 173 polling locations across the city.
There will be social distancing at polling locations, as well as Plexiglas dividers between voters and poll workers. Surfaces will be disinfected periodically, including voting booths.
Voters are even encouraged to bring their own pens — and they’ll be required to sanitize their hands before signing the poll book.
Masks will also be required at all polling places, though voters may be asked to remove or lower their masks briefly to confirm their identity at the polling place. Voters may also be asked to set their photo identification down and back up to maintain distancing.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission states that because of extra safety precautions, it may take extra time to cast your vote this year. It encourages people to show up early to vote and to be patient.
It also strongly recommends that voters do a health self-check before leaving for the polls to ensure that they are not spreading the virus.
The commission recommends anyone who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 contact his or her municipal clerk to find out about arranging curbside voting. The commission also suggests this option for people who have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are the main symptoms of COVID-19: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea.
Curbside voting also is an option for people who are immunocompromised or disabled that may have difficulty entering their polling place, as NNS reporting noted here. Voters who want to inquire about curbside voting should contact their municipal clerk to set up an appointment. You can find your municipal clerk here.
People voting curbside can call (414) 286-3963 on or before Election Day in Milwaukee to make poll workers aware that they’re coming.
Johnston said he hopes that people will be responsive to the safety measures, but if they aren’t, he urges other voters to bring it to the attention of workers at the polling places.
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