A record number of people in Michigan are voting absentee this election, but many people are still planning to vote in-person at the polls. So the question is: Is it safe to vote at your local precinct during the pandemic?
Click on the audio player to hear WDET’s Pat Batcheller interview Laura Herberg about pandemic safety at the polls in Michigan.
If you voted in person during the August primary, you’re going to encounter very similar health and safety precautions on November 3rd. There may be some variation depending on who your local clerk is, but in general most Michiganders who vote at the polls can expect to find:
- Stickers guiding them to stand 6 feet apart
- Hand sanitizer at entrances
- Masks being offered to voters who don’t have one
- Plastic barriers separating poll workers from voters in some jurisdictions
- Pens and surfaces being sanitized after every use
- Poll workers wearing masks, some wearing face shields
- Poll workers encouraged to stay home if they have any symptoms of illness
- In Detroit, poll workers are required to get tested for COVID-19 before working. That said, they only need to show negative results from a test taken between Sept. 21 and the election
Masks Are Not Required For Voters
Masks are not required for voters but they will still be strongly encouraged. Most polling places will offer up masks to voters who don’t have them.
In a poll worker training in Detroit, instructor Tyra Dear-Williams told the class the City will be hanging signs at the precincts that say “Masks on at all times. No exceptions.” But, she explained, “There is an exception. If a voter comes in and they do not have a mask, you can offer them one. But if they don’t take it you can’t force them to take it. And they do get to vote. You have to allow them to vote.”
While masks are not mandatory for voters, people are used to wearing masks when they go to the grocery store (and most people are afraid of COVID-19), so clerks are expecting that the vast majority of voters will opt to wear them.
But Is It Actually Safe to Vote?
Experts generally think that people should be able to vote without exposing themselves to the virus.
“Polling places can be very safe as long as they’re set up right, as long as there’s good ventilation, as long as everybody’s wearing a mask, as long as people are well-spaced out,” Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Public Health School at Brown University told NPR. “Polling places can be every bit as safe as a grocery store… maybe even more so.”
In Michigan, the Secretary of State’s office says that because so many people are opting to vote absentee, that will make the polls less crowded and essentially safer on November 3rd. Spokesperson Tracy Wimmer said that’s what happened in the last election.
“We saw on August 4th in the statewide primary that polling places were largely pretty empty,” Wimmer told WDET’s Jake Neher. “They were actually calm, clean, and there were no lines.”