Recommendations for Election Polling Locations

Interim guidance to prevent spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Updated March 27, 2020

Summary of changes:

  • Encourage moving election polling locations away from long term care facilities and facilities housing older persons to minimize COVID-19 exposure among older individuals and those with chronic medical conditions.
  • Updated EPA COVID Disinfectant link.

Background

There is much to learn about the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Based on what is currently known about SARS-CoV-2 and about similar coronaviruses, spread from person-to-person happens most frequently among close contacts (within about 6 feet). This type of transmission occurs via respiratory droplets. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented. Transmission of coronavirus in general occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through contact with contaminated surfaces. Current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in election polling locations.

Purpose

This guidance provides recommendations on the routine cleaning and disinfection of polling location areas and associated voting equipment (e.g., pens, voting machines, computers). It suggests actions that polling station workers can take to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by limiting the survival of the virus in the environment. This guidance will be updated if additional information becomes available.

Definitions:

  • Community settings (e.g. polling locations, households, schools, daycares, businesses) encompass most non-healthcare settings and are visited by the general public.
  • Cleaning refers to the removal of dirt and impurities including germs from surfaces. Cleaning alone does not kill germs. But by removing them, it decreases the number of germs and therefore any risk of spreading infection.
  • Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. But killing germs remaining on a surface after cleaning further reduce any risk of spreading infection.

Actions for elections officials in advance of election day

  • Encourage voters to use voting methods that minimize direct contact with other people and reduce crowd size at polling stations.
    • Encourage mail-in methods of voting if allowed in the jurisdiction.
    • Encourage early voting, where voter crowds may be smaller throughout the day. This minimizes the number of individuals a voter may come in contact with.
    • Encourage drive-up voting for eligible voters if allowed in the jurisdiction.
    • Encourage voters planning to vote in-person on election day to arrive at off-peak times. For example, if voter crowds are lighter mid-morning, advertise that in advance to the community.
    • Encourage relocating polling places from nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and senior living residences, to minimize COVID-19 exposure among older individuals and those with chronic medical conditions.
    • Consider additional social distancing and other measures to protect these individuals during voting.

Preventive actions polling workers can take

  • Stay at home if you have fever, respiratory symptoms, or believe you are sick
  • Practice hand hygiene frequently: 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.
  • Practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces: including tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, etc.
  • Disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated with germs after cleaning: A list of products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claimsexternal icon is available. Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective against the virus that causes COVID-19 based on data for harder to kill viruses. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, use of personal protective equipment).
  • Clean and disinfect voting-associated equipment (e.g., voting machines, laptops, tablets, keyboards) routinely. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products.
    • Consult with the voting machine manufacturer for guidance on appropriate disinfection products for voting machines and associated electronics.
    • Consider use of wipeable covers for electronics.
    • If no manufacturer guidance is available, consider the use of alcohol-based wipes or spray containing at least 70% alcohol to clean voting machine buttons and touch screens. Dry surfaces thoroughly to avoid pooling of liquids.

Preventive action polling stations workers can take for themselves and the general public

Based on available data, the most important measures to prevent transmission of viruses in crowded public areas include careful and consistent cleaning of one’s hands. Therefore:

  • Ensure bathrooms at the polling station are supplied adequately with soap, water, and drying materials so visitors and staff can wash their hands..
  • Provide an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol for use before or after using the voting machine or the final step in the voting process. Consider placing the alcohol-based hand sanitizer in visible, frequently used locations such as registration desks and exits.
  • Incorporate social distancing strategies, as feasible.Social distancing strategies increase the space between individuals and decrease the frequency of contact among individuals to reduce the risk of spreading a disease. Keeping individuals at least 6 feet apart is ideal based on what is known about COVID-19. If this is not feasible, efforts should be made to keep individuals as far apart as is practical. Feasibility of strategies will depend on the space available in the polling station and the number of voters who arrive at one time. Polling station workers can:
    • Increase distance between voting booths.
    • Limit nonessential visitors. For example, poll workers should be encouraged not to bring children, grandchildren, etc. with them as they work the polls.
    • Remind voters upon arrival to try to leave space between themselves and others. Encourage voters to stay 6 feet apart if feasible. Polling places may provide signs to help voters and workers remember this.
    • Discourage voters and workers from greeting others with physical contact (e.g., handshakes). Include this reminder on signs about social distancing.

Recommendations for processing mail-in ballots

  • Workers handling mail in ballots should practice hand hygiene frequently
  • No additional precautions are recommended for storage of ballots

References