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Another Election Day challenge: People who have Covid-19 and need to vote

The CDC issued guidelines on how to safely vote if you have Covid-19. 

A traffic monitor beside a line of cars.
Voters 65 and older and people who are unable to stand in line to vote due to a disability are allowed to vote from their vehicle in Charleston, South Carolina.
Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

About 100 million voters cast their ballots before Election Day, taking seriously the advice to vote early, either in person or by mail.

But there’s another problem some voters are facing in the middle of the pandemic: How do you vote if you’re sick with, or have been exposed to, Covid-19?

The United States recorded more than 93,000 new Covid-19 cases on November 1 alone, a number that’s greater than the total of votes Trump won in three states that tipped him to victory in the Electoral College in 2016, in case anyone is counting. So Covid-19 accommodations are necessary to make sure as many people who want to vote can do so.

It looks a little like this scene of curbside voting for Covid-19-positive people, which St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer Robert Cohen captured in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, on Monday.

According to Cohen, staff members of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, in head-to-toe PPE, conducted curbside voting for Covid-19-positive voters Monday. (Missouri has recorded 16,000 new Covid-19 cases in the past seven days, according to state data.) Cohen’s scenes show a pretty apt distillation of our current moment: a pandemic that is consuming America, at the same time that voters are very motivated, and very enthusiastic, to cast their ballots.

Many states have changed their election rules, expanded mail-in voting, and implemented extra safety protocols at polling sites to help Americans vote safely during the pandemic. And, with the United States facing a troubling, nationwide surge of Covid-19 cases, local election officials have had to make accommodations for people in quarantine or who are ill or hospitalized with Covid-19.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laid out guidelines over who might fit that category. The gist, published Sunday: People who are isolating with Covid-19 can and should vote, but with extra precautions in place.

“Voters who are sick or in quarantine should take steps to protect poll workers and other voters,” the CDC announced. “This includes wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer before and after voting. You should also let poll workers know that you are sick or in quarantine when you arrive at the polling location.”

As in St. Louis, election officials in places such as Ohio and Wisconsin are urging voters to take advantage of curbside voting if they’re ill, minimizing unnecessary contact with election workers and fellow voters. (Republicans sued to disqualify votes cast through drive-through voting sites in Harris County, Texas; the lawsuit failed this week, but election officials vastly scaled back capacity at those locations.)

Wisconsin, too, lets hospitalized voters designate someone to pick up and drop off an absentee ballot, even if the deadline to request a ballot has passed; this year, they also included people who are quarantining with Covid-19 in that category, reported Wisconsin Public Radio. Other states, such as Maryland, have issued similar plans for Covid-19 patients to designate a representative to deliver their ballot. Still, Covid-19-positive voters still face obstacles to voting. In Texas, for example, voters need a doctor’s note to get an emergency absentee ballot. And it’s even harder to overcome these challenges with polls closing this evening and mail-in ballot deadlines approaching or already expired.

And for anyone who’s voting in person, the CDC also recommends taking a few basic safety measures, like wearing a mask, trying to stay 6 feet apart from other people, and bringing things like tissues, hand sanitizer, and an extra mask when heading to a polling site. Experts say voting in person is relatively safe — about the same as a grocery store trip — as long as voters take those additional precautions. As Vox’s Dylan Scott wrote, “whether it’s simply too late for you to vote by mail or you prefer to vote in person to eliminate the possibility of any mistakes in your ballot being processed, you can vote safely in person.”

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