In preparation for the 2020 elections, the Illinois Department of Public Health has issued guidance to protect the safety and health of voters as they cast ballots at polling locations throughout the state during early voting and Election Day.
“Voting is a right and a privilege,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “While the safest way to cast a ballot this year is voting by mail, we are and will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure that Illinoisans can exercise their right to vote in person, in the safest possible environments during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
In accordance with the guidance, all local election authorities will be required to develop written COVID-19 prevention plans for all polling sites within their jurisdiction. Plans will contain specific COVID-19 safety and training instructions along with the names of individuals responsible for implementation of the plan.
Election authorities are being strongly encouraged to relocate polls previously housed in long-term care facilities and senior living residences to protect voters and residents — particularly those who are most vulnerable.
All locations will have signage to encourage voters to wear masks and maintain a distance of 6 feet, while inside the polling places. If voters show up to a polling place without one, election authorities are required to offer them a face covering outside of the polling place. Polling booths will be set up at least 6 feet apart and foot traffic will be one-directional.
Additional recommended preventative actions in the guidance include using Plexiglas barriers between election officials and voters, large print instructions to facilitate communication, routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, and polling place personnel to remind voters to maintain physical distance.
While election officials are prohibited from preventing a voter without a face covering from casting a ballot, the guidance requires they take every reasonable action to separate noncompliant voters, ensuring they are socially distanced from those voters who are compliant.
Physical Environment for Polling Locations
Local election authorities are encouraged to relocate polling places previously stationed in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and senior living residences, to minimize COVID-19 exposure among vulnerable individuals, including older individuals and those with chronic medical conditions.
- Place signage at entrances that encourages voters to wear face coverings.
- Station election officials at least 6 feet apart.
- Station polling booths at least 6 feet apart.
- Place visual cues to ensure social distancing of 6 feet, including:
- Separate the entrance and exit, if feasible and appropriate for the space.
- Require foot traffic be one-directional.
- Guide voters and observers with visual cues, barriers, props, and signage.
- Use floor signage to designate “wait here” for the queue inside and for those waiting outside to enter.
- Place visual cues for polling workers to maintain physical distance.
- Designate a specific area for polling location workers to take breaks that allows physical distance when workers are eating or drinking and must remove their face coverings.
- Consider having outdoor enclosures (i.e., tents, awnings, or canopies) for those waiting outside in case of inclement weather.
- Consider stationing election officials in parking areas to encourage voters to wait in their vehicles if the line is long and then direct voters into the queue as space becomes available.
- For locations without significant pedestrian voters, consider curbside voting.
- Outdoor enclosures would be required for election officials and stations.
- Stations for curbside voting would include an area for identification verification and the voting station.
- If using curbside voting, contingency plans for inclement weather must be in place.
- To the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure any signage and messages are accessible to voters with disabilities, for example by providing large print or braille versions or having audible messages with the same information.
- Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, for example by opening windows and doors. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk to poll workers, voters, or children accompanying voters (e.g., risk of falling or triggering asthma symptoms).
- Where possible, replace shared objects, like pens, ballot activation cards, or ballot covers with single-use objects.
- Shared objects, like pens or ballot activation cards, should be disinfected between users.
- Consider laminated ballot covers that can be disinfected between use.
- Headphones for voters with disabilities should be single-use or disinfected between users.
- Have “I Voted” stickers separated and available for pick up or consider not offering these stickers.
Preventative Actions in Election Polling Location
- Provide a supply of face coverings for voters that arrive at the polling location without a face covering.
- Face coverings should be offered to the voters outside the polling location to minimize transmission to those waiting in lines.
- Election authorities are prohibited from preventing a noncompliant voter from casting a ballot for refusal to wear a face covering outside or inside a polling place.
- Voters outside or inside a polling place shall not be screened for COVID-19.
- Election officials should take every reasonable action to separate noncompliant voters from those wearing face coverings. These actions may include, but are not limited to, establishing a separate waiting area for non-compliant voters or establishing a separate line or queue. Election officials must provide a means to track the noncompliant voter’s place in the normal queue of voters and call the noncompliant voter from the waiting area when it is their turn to vote.
- Consider placing Plexiglas barriers between election officials and voters.
- Consider using large print instructions on laminated cards to allow voters to maintain distance and to facilitate communication through masks.
- Designate specific polling place personnel to monitor and to remind voters to maintain physical distancing.
- Practice routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched objects and surfaces in election polling locations (e.g., tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, etc.). See the list of products pre-approved by the EPA for disinfecting available here. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the label for all cleaning and disinfection products.
- Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched electronics (e.g., voting machines, laptops, tablets, keyboards) using products pre-approved by the EPA. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products. For questions about products appropriate for disinfecting voting machines and touch screens, consult with the voting machine manufacturer and consider additional use of wipeable covers for machines, if possible. If no guidance is available from the manufacturer, consider the use of alcohol-based wipes or spray containing at least 70% alcohol to clean voting machine buttons and touch screens. Use of alcohol-based products may reduce risk of damage to sensitive voting machine components.
- Ensure bathrooms at the election polling location are adequately supplied with soap, water, and drying materials for handwashing.
- Provide voters with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol for use before or after the use of a voting machine and after the voting process.
- Use signage at the election polling locations encouraging voters to practice proper hygiene (see CDC Printed Resources).
Preventative Actions for Polling Location Workers
- Wear a face covering at all times in the polling location.
- Require election polling location personnel to self-screen for possible COVID-19 symptoms prior to performing their official election duties during early voting and on Election Day.
- The screening should include the following symptom questions.
Health Screening Questions
- Do you have a fever, chills, runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, headache, muscle aches nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, new loss of taste or smell, or sore throat?
- Any polling personnel reporting a temperature of greater than 100.4oF (38oC) or symptoms of COVID-19 should be instructed to go home and be evaluated by a medical provider for possible COVID-19. They should not return to the polling location until symptoms have resolved, it has been a minimum of 10 days from onset of symptoms, and at least 1 day from the last fever without fever reducing medications.
- Within the last 14 days, have you had close contact (within 6 feet for greater than 15 minutes) with someone who has COVID-19?
- Any polling personnel who reports close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should not return to the poling location until 14 days from the last exposure.
Practice hand hygiene frequently throughout the day. Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Coughing or sneezing must be contained by an appropriate face covering.
Stagger breaks so polling location workers are physically distanced when eating or drinking.