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Voting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19

Voting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19
© Greg Nash

A coalition of voting rights and public health groups on Thursday rolled out guidelines to help protect voters from catching and spreading COVID-19 while exercising their right to vote this year. 

The Healthy Voting Guidelines, rolled out initially for states holding primaries in June, are the product of the non-partisan coalition We Can Vote, and were drafted by groups including the American Public Health Association and the Center for Tech and Civic Life.

According to the authors, the recommendations are the the nation’s first healthy voting guidelines, and details ways that voters can exercise their rights at the polls while taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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The guidelines address both mail-in and in-person voting for more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia. Recommendations include wearing a mask and standing six feet apart from other voters if going to the polls in person, voting during less busy times and washing your hands after dropping off a mail-in ballot.

The guidelines also give instructions on how to send in a ballot by mail. Mail-in voting is an issue that has become a divisive topic following pushback from President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-DOJ official Rosenstein says he was not aware of subpoena targeting Democrats: report Ex-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' MORE and other Republicans, who have argued a spike in mail-in voting could lead to increased voter fraud. There is no evidence, however, that fraud is any more likely with mail-in voting than in-person voting.

Despite this, some Republicans officials threw their weight behind the guidelines on Thursday, including former Republican Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

“In America, we have adapted our elections over the years, going back to the Civil War,” Grayson said during a press call Thursday. “We need to adapt right now, and tools like this will help administrators do that ... we only have about six months until the election, we cannot waste any more time.”

Washington is among a handful of states that fully votes by mail. Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) said Thursday that she also supports the guidelines, describing the effort as “critical to the success of this fall’s election, as well as the continued health of our democracy.”

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“No matter how states adapt their processes amidst this pandemic — be it a conversion to 100 percent vote-by-mail or increasing existing absentee programs — ensuring safe access to the ballot is critical,” Wyman added. 

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“No one should be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote, and with public health experts warning that a second wave of COVID-19 this fall is increasingly likely, millions of Americans will be forced to make that untenable choice if we don’t act now,” Coons said in a statement. 

Voting rights advocates and election officials have pushed hard over the past months to increase mail-in voting and early voting to allow elections to go forward without spreading COVID-19. 

Many states have either sent out mail-in voting applications or the ballots themselves to registered voters, while Congress appropriated $400 million to help states address election challenges as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package signed into law in March, with efforts ongoing to send more.