On Tuesday, many Oklahomans will do something they’ve never done before: Cast a vote during a pandemic. For those voting in person, experts at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have tips for staying safe while doing their civic duty.
1. Don’t skimp on the basics
Voters can make polling places safer for themselves and others by following the safety recommendations we’ve grown accustomed to: Wear a mask, stay at least six feet from others and practice good hand hygiene.
“Polling places have the potential to become ‘mass gathering’ sites,” said OMRF physician-scientist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D. “Although we’re tired of the rules, it’s critical that we take every precaution when in a place likely to become crowded.”
2. Hands-off high-touch surfaces
Door handles, the polling booth and even the pens provided to sign the voter roll or complete a ballot will see a lot of fingerprints on Nov. 3. And with Covid-19 cases surging in Oklahoma, voters should have high-touch surfaces at top of mind.
“Although the scientific consensus is now that surface contamination isn’t a primary mode of infection, don’t be shy about hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes at the polling place,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Voters might even consider bringing their own pen. Just make sure it’s a black ballpoint pen, like the ones supplied at the polls.”
3. Timing is everything
Avoid peak times, typically early morning and evening, when the polls have just opened or are about to close.
“Oklahoma law provides most workers with two hours paid leave to vote,” said Prescott. “So if you can go mid-morning or the afternoon, that’s your best chance at avoiding crowds.”
4. Come prepared
And, says Chakravarty, don’t spend more time in the polling place than necessary:
“The CDC defines an exposure to Covid-19 as anytime you’re within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more,” said Chakravarty. “Study your sample ballot in advance and reduce the time you’re in your polling place by knowing how you’ll vote before your ballot is in your hand.”
And remember that this is not just about you. “Be respectful of those around you and of the poll workers who are taking risks to help you exercise your right to vote,” said Chakravarty. “No matter who prevails in this election, we all win when our communities stay safe and healthy.”