Can voters who test positive for the coronavirus still come to the polls on Tuesday?
Yes, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on Sunday published new guidelines noting that sick voters still have the right to cast a ballot.
“Voters have the right to vote, regardless of whether they are sick or in quarantine,” the CDC says on their website. Under federal law, turning someone away from a polling site is considered illegal and an act of voter intimidation.
The guideline could add another layer of tension for those voting in person on Election Day, as some states prepare the National Guard for potential post-election unrest — all in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century.
But for Americans who recently learned they have covid-19, voting in person might be their only option. Those who received their test results in the past few days, as reported by The Washington Post’s Neena Satija, already missed deadlines to request an absentee ballot in most states.
This was the case of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who was quarantining after having close contact with Rep. Drew Ferguson (R), who tested positive last Friday, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Kemp had requested an absentee ballot that same day, but it was unlikely it would arrive in the mail on time.
Had the CDC not updated its guidelines on Sunday, Kemp would not have been able to vote in person without violating the coronavirus guidelines from the CDC’s Atlanta office, according to the Journal-Constitution.
The CDC does recommend that those infected or exposed to covid-19 wear a mask to the polls. But the rules on pandemic safety at polling sites vary widely from state to state and depend on the decisions of local elections officials. Some states with mask mandates have exempted polling places from the rules altogether.
In the West Texas town of Big Spring, a couple told The Post in a report published on Sunday that they were the only people wearing masks when casting their vote at the county courthouse. But another woman who voted at her neighborhood community center in central Houston told Post reporters each poll worker sat at separate tables, with enough distance and shielded by plexiglass.
The CDC’s new guidelines also ask sick voters and those in quarantine to stay at least six feet away from others at polling sites, to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after voting, and not to wipe down any voting equipment unless asked to do so.
“You should also let poll workers know that you are sick or in quarantine when you arrive at the polling location,” the agency added.
The agency also suggests voters bring their own supplies, including a black ink pen, an extra mask, hand sanitizer, tissues and water.
Although the agency has said those who have or may have covid-19 are allowed in the polls today, another of the agency’s guidelines updated last week excludes poll workers.
“Poll workers who are sick, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have recently had a close contact with a person with COVID-19 should stay home,” the agency’s guidance said.
That guidance also recommends jurisdictions set alternative voting options like designated polling sites or curbside voting for sick voters to minimize exposure.
On Monday, staff members of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners dressed in white protective suits handed ballots in downtown St. Louis to covid-19-positive voters, who voted from the inside of their vehicles, the St. Louis-Post Dispatch reported.
In addition, the CDC suggests polling sites should post signs to discourage anyone with symptoms from entering the polling location.
Antonia Noori Farzan contributed to this report.