By the time you read this, it'll be mid-October — maybe even late October. It's firmly fall. Leaves are coming down. You know what that means: It's time to vote.
Things are a little different this year. In-person voting requires more planning and a lot more patience. But don't be discouraged, says Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Your vote is important.
NPR's Allison Aubrey spoke with Pérez about what you can do to make the day easier and safer for you and your community.
Keep taking precautions
Making Election Day safer for everyone starts with taking measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 now. Nov. 3 will be harder if COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in your community. Keep social distancing, wearing your mask and frequently washing your hands.
Now isn't the time to start gathering in groups or going back to old habits again — as tempting as it may be.
Vote before Election Day if you can
This year, you have a few voting options: more states are allowing mail-in and early voting. Then there's in-person voting on Election Day, Nov. 3. Think of that day as your deadline this year.
More mail-in and early voters will make the in-person voters safer. "The fewer people you have congested in a polling place, the less likely you're going to be around other people," says Pérez.
If you opt to vote by mail, request your ballot now. Registration deadlines are nearing (some have already passed) and the deadlines for requesting ballots are fast approaching, too. If mail-in is the best option for you, here's what to remember.
If you vote in-person, come prepared
Lots of us like to bring our kids with us to the polls, to share in that sense of civic duty and camaraderie. But this year, it's not the best approach. "The fewer people, the less congestion we have, the safer everybody is," says Pérez.
Given that there may be lines, think in advance about what you'll need to stay comfortable while you wait. Bring water, wear comfy shoes, pack a snack and hand sanitizer. And, of course, don't forget your mask. Since you may be waiting outside, look at the weather forecast. You may need an umbrella or an extra layer.
"There are going to be some glitches," Pérez says. "There are going to be some lines." The better prepared you are, the smoother the process will be for everyone.
Lend a hand to others
If you've got the time, ask around to see if you can help others. Does a co-worker need you to cover their shift in order to get to the polls? Can you watch a friend's kids (preferably, outside) while they go vote? Maybe an aging neighbor needs a ride to the polls.
"If you've got some flexibility in your schedule and want to contribute on Election Day, just look in your own networks," suggests Pérez.
If you're an employer, try to be flexible about giving your employees time off on Election Day. If people need to rush back to work, they may not have time to cast their ballots.
What election officials are thinking about
Election officials have a lot on their plates this year. They're recruiting new poll workers, since many who typically work the polls on Election Day are older, and at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. (If you're healthy and interested, consider signing up.)
Officials are also redesigning polling centers and relocating them (away from senior centers, for example).
The Brennan Center, where Pérez works, worked with the Infectious Disease Society of America on guidelines for in-person voting.
"We should make sure that our polling places have disposable or one-use things, like pens and Q-tips to press machines," says Pérez.
Workers should have enough cleaning equipment to wipe down desks and machines. Polling locations shouldn't require people to enter and exit through the same door — because it's hard to stay distanced when everyone is coming and going through the same place.
"The vast majority of Americans are going to vote without incident," says Pérez. "But we're not a democracy for most of us. We're a democracy for all of us."
Don't be discouraged if you have to wait — and do what you can to make the day easier for others.
"When you step into that ballot box, your vote matters just as much as anybody else, and we are all better when we are all participating," Pérez says.
The podcast portion of this story was produced by Clare Lombardo.
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