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How 5 U.S. cities ensured COVID-positive voters could cast ballots

November 4, 2020, 3:47 AM UTC

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The 2020 election presented a whole new challenge for cities across the nation: how to get voters to cast their ballots if they were infected with the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that people who test positive for the virus could still vote in-person, as long as they followed current health guidance including wearing a mask, social distancing, and sanitizing their hands before and after they vote. The CDC also recommended that voters who are sick let poll workers know of their condition to keep them safe. 

Though U.S. coronavirus cases continue to rise by hundreds of thousands every week, cities across the nation found ways to help sick people cast their votes in the presidential election.

Sioux Falls, S.D. 

A nonpartisan organization called Patient Voting attracted an army of volunteers to help people vote from their hospital beds in several cities, including Sioux Falls. 

Students from local medical schools joined forces with volunteers to visit health systems in the city to help voters. The volunteers went to their local elections departments to request absentee and emergency ballots for patients, deliver them to the patients, and then cast the ballots in the ballot box.

Nashville

Nashville set up a COVID-19 hotline that allowed people who tested positive for the coronavirus after the deadline for absentee ballots had passed to call and set up special arrangements. 

Staffers from the election commission then followed up with voters to schedule a time for when voters could park outside the county election commission office to vote. Poll workers also geared up in safety equipment for curbside voting outside the office on Election Day.  

St. Louis

St. Louis also set up curbside voting locations, run by staffers from the city’s board of election commissioners, for people who tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Photos from the St. Louis Dispatch show workers donning full protective equipment to collect the ballots of sick individuals in downtown St. Louis. The workers were set up at two tents outside the election board offices.  

Kansas City, Mo. 

Kansas City had a similar curbside setup, but issues left many voters waiting in long drive-thru lines for hours on Election Day. 

The Kansas City Election Board created the voting station specifically to help voters who have disabilities or tested positive for the coronavirus. But tech issues and unexpected high turnout created big delays, according to the Kansas City Star.

El Paso 

El Paso has become a hotspot for COVID-19, reporting more than 1,000 new cases on Election Day alone and a rising death toll of more than 600 people since the outbreak. And despite the strain on medical facilities across the city—El Paso called in its fourth morgue truck on Monday—the city made arrangements for people with the coronavirus to vote.

Voters who tested positive for the virus were able to request curbside voting at any polling location or could visit seven drive-thru voting locations across the city. If voters were in the hospital, they had to get a doctor’s permission to allow a friend or family member to deliver them an emergency ballot.