How To Vote Safely: Steps For Election Day : Life Kit NPR's Allison Aubrey spoke with Myrna Pérez of the Brennan Center for Justice about how voters can make election day go smoothly — from what they need to bring to keeping others safe.

It's Time To Make Your Plan To Vote: Bring Your PPE And Patience

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ALLISON AUBREY, HOST:

I'm Allison Aubrey. You're listening to NPR's LIFE KIT.

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AUBREY: I've got a question for you. Have you made your plan to vote yet? If you live in the United States, you probably already know that November 3 is Election Day. If you didn't, write that down right now - Tuesday, November 3. Obviously, this election is going to be a lot different than in years past. Lots of Americans are voting early. So this year, you can think of November 3 as your deadline.

I spoke with Myrna Perez about this year's election. She's the director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

MYRNA PEREZ: This is a really important election. Elections are the way that we in this country resolve our political differences peacefully. And right now, our country is in the middle of a reckoning for things that we have done and things that we have left undone. And if we're going to get ourselves out of it, we need to leverage the talents and experience and expertise of all of us.

AUBREY: And that includes you. So Myrna and I talked about what we can all do to make Election Day go smoothly, so you can cast your ballot, stay safe and keep everyone around you healthy. My first question to her, is it even possible to stay safe at the polls in the middle of a pandemic?

PEREZ: Absolutely. I think voters should, obviously, take precautions. And voters who have high-risk profiles should consider voting by mail if it's possible. But we have done a thorough analysis, along with the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and we've concluded that if folks take some commonsense precautions, we should be just fine.

AUBREY: So I'm imagining, as with so many other things at this time, it's not so much the activity as how we choose to do the activity. What other practical things can people be thinking about? And maybe it's just the same stuff we keep hearing - stay masked, stay distanced, keep washing your hands.

PEREZ: Well, I'd say it's a little bit more than that. I mean, one, again, folks should consider voting early if they're in a state that allows for early voting because the fewer people you have congested in a polling place, the less likely you're going to be around other people. People should consider voting by mail if they have that option and their state is one in which voting by mail is available to all those who want it.

We are suggesting that people have a plan for how they're voting on Election Day. That way, you can stand in line. The line might look longer because people are going to go through extra processes to sanitize equipment and the like. And, you know, people are probably going to have to repeat things a couple times because it's not always easy to hear things through a mask.

What is really obvious to me now is that elections matter to all of us. Americans care about voting. And it's a really pro-community-minded act. And so we need to look out for each other.

AUBREY: And as voters, when we show up, it goes without saying we should be masked and stay socially distanced. When you're talking to your family and your friends about this, they must say to you, what should I bring? I mean, you're the expert here. What should we bring with us to the polls this year?

PEREZ: Bring whatever it takes for you to be comfortable - you know, if you need a water, if you need snacks. Make sure you have PPE. You know, make sure you wash your hands. Keep your hand sanitizer with you. You need a book.

Like, we want as many Americans voting as are eligible and as we can get. And I think that that means folks just being prepared and people being patient. There are going to be some glitches. There are going to be some lines. But your right to vote is so important, and the fact of you voting is really, really important. So we don't want people to be deterred.

AUBREY: In years past, I've taken my children with me to the polls just so they can sort of experience what this feels like. I know my daughter loves to get the I Voted sticker. It definitely feels like you're exercising this very important freedom that we have in this country, and it's something that we have traditions built around. It's a time to see neighbors. This is probably going to feel different. And I'm imagining it's probably not a good idea to bring small children to the polls.

PEREZ: We are asking people to think twice about whether or not they bring people that don't need to be there at the polls this particular election because, you know, the fewer people, the less congestion we have, the safer everybody is.

But I do think that there are other ways you can make - you know, you can make your children feel really excited. You can talk to them about what you're doing. You can show them inspiring Americans. You can tell them about the importance of voting. You can set up a, you know, a mini election in your house and have people vote for, like, what you're going to have for dinner.

The impulse to teach civics and civic participation, I think, is really, really smart and really, really good. But this might not be the election to bring extra bodies to the polls with you.

AUBREY: And is there a place to look in your community - I mean, perhaps this will happen community to community on Listservs (ph), for instance. But it seems like it would be a great day to volunteer to maybe watch someone else's child in a socially distanced outdoor way.

PEREZ: Right. I mean, we've been encouraging Americans who want to know how to help to, like, think about their own social networks. Figure out, like, who might need a ride. Figure out who might need child care. Figure out who might need you to check in to make sure that, you know, their dog doesn't need to get walked and the like. Just - if you've got some flexibility in your schedule and want to contribute on Election Day, just look in your own networks.

AUBREY: And I'm imagining that election administrators have been thinking a lot about this. As municipalities and election officials sit down, what do you think has been the No. 1 concern they've tried to control for here?

PEREZ: Well, I think the big concern that they've had thus far is a lot of people not willing to be poll workers, which is totally understandable. If you are a person that's at risk, you should not be being a poll worker. You should find someone else to take your spot. But if you don't have enough poll workers and it's harder to have enough polling locations - and then if you don't have enough polling locations and you start getting lines and frustrated, grouchy people.

I think one of the things that people have been doing is signing up to be poll workers, and that's super exciting. But they're also doing things like looking at where they're putting polling locations. I mean, we shouldn't be having polling locations in senior centers right now.

We should be making sure that our polling locations are designed in a way that allows for 6 feet apart for people. We need to be looking at polling locations that doesn't require somebody to go in and then somebody else to go out the same entrance because that you can't schedule for being 6 feet apart.

We should make sure that our polling places have disposable or one-use things like pens and Q-tips to press machines, that they have enough cleaning equipment to wipe down machines and to wipe down desks, a way of managing lines so people are coming in really quickly and leaving really quickly - very commonsense things that we are trying to do to make sure that our polling places don't contribute to the spread of COVID.

AUBREY: What should we look for in poll workers to see that they're protected? I'm imagining that election administrators have thought a lot about this, how to protect poll workers, yeah?

PEREZ: You know, I mean, we want them to have PPE, too. They should have PPE. They should have pens that are single-use. They should be able to be separated and to maintain 6 feet of distance from the voter. They should be able to use gloves. They should have frequent hand-washing opportunities. They should be able to wipe down their areas and wipe down the voting machines.

Again, I think those who specialize in this will say that the health of the public, the health of the community is a big part. So doing our part now to make sure that we're not spreading, I think, will help a lot on Election Day.

AUBREY: It sounds like people really should be prepared to wait in line. Is that right? I mean, that's always true on Election Day, but particularly this year.

PEREZ: Yeah. Well, I mean, I also think the lines are going to look longer because there are going to be people waiting 6 feet apart, right? So, like, I mean, the big thing is don't be discouraged. The vast majority of Americans are going to vote without incident. They're going to vote without incident. But we're not a democracy for most of us; we're a democracy for all of us. And if you are in that segment that has a big incident, you know, and you're not prepared for it, it's going to be not only disruptive to you, it's going to be a loss to all of us if you get deterred and leave and, therefore, we don't get the value of your vote and your expertise and your experience.

So I do think it makes sense for people to be as prepared as they can. I think it makes sense for people to be as patient as they can. I think it makes sense for people to be as flexible as they can. And I think it absolutely makes sense to think about your neighbors and to think about your other community members that may not be as fortunate as you are, that may have constraints that you don't have, and do what you can to try and help them out.

Elections are the time where we can all come together, where it doesn't matter if you are rich or poor or Black or white or educated or not. 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. So I am really, really hopeful that Americans will have each other's back and do their part in making sure the election goes as smooth as possible.

AUBREY: Myrna Perez, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

PEREZ: Thank you for having me.

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AUBREY: All right, are you ready to cast your ballot? Here's what to remember. If you can vote early or mail in your ballot, do it. Make sure to check the deadline in your state and jurisdiction because we're getting close to them. If you decide Election Day is best for you, make sure to bring what you need to stay comfortable. Wear a mask. Bring sanitizer. And wear comfy shoes. Unlike in years past, it's probably not a good idea to bring your kids or other family members to the polls who don't need to be there, but do ask around and see if others in your community may need help. If you can give someone else a ride or watch their kids, lend a hand. Be prepared to wait, but don't be discouraged. Your vote is important no matter what it is. As Myrna says, we're all better when we're all participating.

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AUBREY: For more of NPR LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes. We've got a deep dive into how to sign up to work the polls and another about how to find teletherapy during COVID-19. You can find those at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and want to subscribe to our newsletter, you can do so at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter. If you've got a good tip, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us a voice memo at lifekit@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Clare Lombardo. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. Beth Donovan is the senior editor. Our digital editors are Beck Harlan and Clare Lombardo, and our editorial assistant is Clare Schneider. I'm Allison Aubrey. Thanks for listening.

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