The agency’s report comes as voters cast ballots with less than two weeks left until Election Day. The CDC said “critical considerations” for safer in-person voting include more attention to correct mask use and lowering congregation at the polls.
The CDC released findings from 522 poll workers across at least 99 sites in Delaware who answered a survey shortly after the September primary election.
The agency said 42% of the poll workers were older than 65, and nearly one-third reported one underlying medical condition linked to heightened COVID-19 severity. Recruiting younger people to work the polls instead may lower the risk for older adults who are more vulnerable to severe illness, the CDC noted.
While mitigation measures were widespread, the CDC noted some areas of improvement. For example, the survey said most poll workers and voters wore masks, but only 54% of respondents said voters wore masks correctly over the nose and mouth.
“The substantial proportion of respondents who reported observing incorrect mask use by voters suggests that further messaging on proper mask use, including at polling locations, might be needed to strengthen the effectiveness of masks during upcoming elections,” per the report.
Also, while the vast majority of respondents said hand sanitizer was available for poll workers and voters, 14% said hand sanitizer or other cleaning supplies ran out on Election Day.
Also, 27% of surveyed poll workers said they came into close contact with over 100 voters, and 4% reported close contact with a sick voter. In this context, close contacts were “defined as within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more.” The CDC expanded its definition of “close contact” this week to include multiple, brief exposures adding up to over 15 minutes within 24 hours.
“The large number of close contacts reported by poll workers underscores the potential for in-person voting locations to serve as mass gathering events, supporting current guidance related to the importance of absentee voting, extended polling location hours, and other voting options that reduce congregation of voters in polling locations” per the report.
Finally, poll workers interacting with potentially coronavirus-infected voters need proper protective equipment, and alternatives like curbside voting are encouraged. However, the survey showed just 30% of poll workers were trained on helping infected voters, and of the 4% (or 19) poll workers who came into contact with an infected voter, none of them wore all of the recommended protective equipment, “respiratory protection, face shields, gowns, and gloves,” the CDC wrote.
“Ensuring that ill voters can vote while maintaining poll worker and voter safety will be essential to minimizing transmission without restricting voting rights,” the agency continued.
Finally, since the data was self-reported, it may have some limitations.
“Results from the Delaware primary might not be generalizable to other states or future elections; adoption of mitigation strategies could be affected by differences in COVID-19 incidence, knowledge of COVID-19 transmission, voter turnout, and differences in voting practices by jurisdiction,” the CDC noted.