COVID-19 prevention measures expand at polls
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippians voting in person on Election Day will notice extra precautions in place to ensure the safety of polling locations.
Poll managers and watchers will be required to wear face coverings, locations will be configured to allow for social distancing between voters, signage will be posted to provide safety instructions for voters, and curbside voting will be available for anyone who is sick. State election laws overseen by the Mississippi Office of the Secretary of State were changed specifically for this year’s general election to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.
In addition, poll managers will have personal protective equipment (PPE) available for voters who do not have their own -- including face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer and pens -- on a first-come, first-served basis.
Residents should make preparations of their own before they go to the polls to keep themselves and others safe. Voters who arrive at the polls without PPE cannot be turned away, but state and federal agencies, including the Mississippi State Department of Health, are strongly encouraging the use of protective gear.
“Along with your identification and other prepared items you carry when you go vote, bring an extra mask, tissues, sanitizer and your own pen if you can,” said Mississippi State University Extension health specialist David Buys. “Wash your hands or use sanitizer before entering and after leaving your voting place, and stay at least two arms’ lengths away from others as much as possible.”
Leaving the polling place as soon as voting is done also limits the potential for exposure.
“Elections sometimes double as social events in many communities, with folks visiting with each other while they’re waiting in line or after they cast their ballot,” Buys said. “This year, it may be more appropriate to relocate to a less crowded area once you’ve finished doing your civic duty.”
Other steps to take in advance to speed up voting include making a list or filling in a sample ballot and bringing it to the voting booth.
“If you’ve voted at the same location for several previous elections, you know which times of day are the busiest. Peak times are typically before and after work and during lunch hour,” said Sumner Davis, head of the MSU Extension Center for Government and Community Development. “One of the safest and fastest ways to vote in person is to go mid-morning or mid-afternoon.”
If face coverings keep a poll worker from being able to confirm that the voter and identification match, the worker may ask the voter to step back 6 feet and briefly lower the mask.
“Your polling place should have a separate entrance and exit if the building’s structure allows for those accommodations,” Davis said. “State election laws have been adjusted for this election to address concerns of exposure and to make sure all eligible voters have a safe place to go cast their ballot if they did not vote absentee.”
Due to the pandemic, some regular polling places may change. To verify a poll location, visit yallvote.ms or contact your county circuit clerk’s office.