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Vote, but Vote Safely, Physicians Urge

Originally published on the Texas Medical Association website.

Early voting starts in Texas this week. Physicians urge all Texans to play it safe as they fulfill their civic duty, reminding everyone that it is possible to vote safely during a pandemic.

“Voting can be made safe by following the public health guidelines,” said Diana L. Fite, MD, president of the Texas Medical Association (TMA). “A little planning goes a long way.”

With the coronavirus still actively spreading in Texas, some elderly patients and Texans with disabilities wonder if it’s safe for them to vote in this year’s election, since they are most at risk for serious illness if they catch COVID-19.

Texans might have two options to vote: an individual might qualify to vote by mail, or he or she may vote in person.

“For those over 65 years old or who have chronic illnesses, it would be preferable to stay at home and send off an application for a mail-in ballot,” said Dr. Fite. “It’s certainly safer for these people to vote at home and mail their ballot than to venture out among crowds.” Any registered voter 65 years or older on Election Day or with a disability may vote early by mail in a Texas election.

The Texas Secretary of State has information and instructions about how to apply to vote by mail. Tip: The voter’s local voting clerk must receive an application for a mail-in ballot by Friday, Oct. 23.

For Texans opting to vote in person, there are options as well.

The early voting period runs Tuesday, Oct. 13 through Friday, Oct. 30. During this period, registered Texans can vote in person at any polling location in their home county. Voters might consider looking online for less-busy polling places and times, to avoid crowds. 

Dr. Fite recommends early voting if possible to avoid any unforeseen problems. “If a person is sick on Election Day, that person should not go out to vote,” said Dr. Fite. “Instead, early voting is a consideration to avoid that possibility from occurring.”   

On Election Day, Nov. 3, voters registered in a county that participates in the Countywide Polling Place Program may vote at any polling location in the county. If someone’s county does not participate in that program, he or she must vote in their own precinct on Election Day.

Whether voting early or on Election Day, physicians urge everyone to plan ahead and practice the same public health best practices as if they were going to the grocery store or anywhere else in public.

“Wash hands or use sanitizer before and after voting, try to stay 6 feet from others, and wear a mask,” said Dr. Fite. Simply maintaining space while waiting in line to vote can help prevent the spread of germs.

Physicians remind everyone of these tips for voting in person:

  1. Stay at least six feet away from others;
  2. Bring your own pen, pencil, or stylus;
  3. Wash or disinfect your hands before and after voting;
  4. Wear a face mask (you might have to remove it briefly for the election judge to confirm your identity); and
  5. Stay home if you’re sick.

TMAis the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

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