Everyone in our clinician and researcher community is invited to share vote-by-mail information with their patients and families. This blog offers a summary of ways to help older people get out their votes as safely as possible in 2020, and it provides a voter’s personal experience on the ease of using a vote-by-mail ballot at a community-based official election ballot drop box.
Requesting an absentee ballot and mailing it well before election day, or placing a ballot in a designated drop box offer safe ways to minimize COVID-19 exposure based on guidance from leading experts:
- The Centers for Disease Control urges voters to “Consider voting alternatives available in your jurisdiction that minimize contact.”
- The Bipartisan Policy Center says, “One of the best ways to vote safely is by using a mail ballot. If voting by mail or by absentee is an option for you in your state, doing so may be the best way to keep you and your community safe from COVID-19.”
- The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials promotes an opinion supporting “voters to cast mail ballots when available and to practice physical distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing when dropping off a ballot or casting a vote in person.”
You may also opt to take advantage of voting in person at early voting places or per normal on election day in your state. Although experts believe these methods may carry greater risk for exposure to COVID-19 than voting by mail, there are important ways to decrease that risk if you choose to vote in person. Please see the Center for Disease Control’s Recommendations for Voters.
Additional information for older adults relevant to voting processes in your area can be found below:
- American Association of Retired People: Resources on all the ways to cast your ballot in the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia; their site is linked to additional AARP information about how to protect your health and vote during the pandemic, as well as additional resources on ballot initiatives that may be of interest to older adults.
- National Council on Aging: Voting safely and healthy voting are top-of-mind in their nonpartisan resources for the 50 states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. protectorates/territories.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH VOTING BY MAIL OPTIONS IN MARYLAND
I tested the sites mentioned above for Maryland’s process, and they were accurate. Here is the process for Maryland. At the time of this writing, the voter registration deadline has unfortunately passed—it was October 13th. But if you are already a registered voter in Maryland, and you want to vote by mail or use a community-based official election ballot drop box, there is still time to do so. In Maryland, you must request your mail-in ballot by October 20th.
Here’s my personal experience with the process. In September, I requested a mail-in ballot online at the Maryland Board of Elections website. After I received my mail-in ballot, I looked up all the local issues on my ballot, I carefully followed instructions and filled it out. Mailing it back is free—it doesn’t require a stamp. But rather than mail it in, I opted to use a community-based official drop box that I found out about at the Maryland Board of Elections website. I arrived by car at the drop box located at a local high school. I put on my face mask. I got out of my car. I walked to the drop box, and I inserted my ballot. To make sure it went all the way in, I placed my hand against the ballot box, and I heard my ballot land with a thud. I looked up and I noticed the security cameras towering above. I felt secure that my ballot would be safe. Because I touched the box, I used hand sanitizing lotion that I had in my pocket before touching my car door handle. When I arrived home, I washed my hands with soap and water. The next day, I received an email from the Board of Elections that my ballot was received. It was that safe and easy!
The cumulative effects of this year—civil unrest, economic strife, and the worst pandemic in a century—can make us feel powerless and small and disconnected from our loved-ones, our freedoms, our liberties, and our beloved pursuits of happiness. Despite the circumstances, now can be a time of empowerment, dignity, and respect for older Americans’ right to vote. There are very few events that bring us together as Americans: President’s Day; the Fourth of July; Thanksgiving; and Election Day. I, for one, am glad to have voted and joined the millions of Americans who voted safely—with health in mind. As they say in these times, “We’re in this together” and “Together apart.”