Keeping polling booths six feet apart, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may not be necessary to protect the public from coronavirus transmission and could dramatically decrease capacity for in-person voting, according to an op-ed co-authored by William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a faculty member in the School’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
Meeting the six-foot guideline would reduce the capacity of a polling site by a quarter or a third, according to the August 20, 2020 op-ed in Politico. Fewer available voting booths would mean longer lines of people waiting to vote, which could create additional opportunities for exposure, as well as lead some voters to give up out of frustration or lack of spare time, the authors wrote.
The risk of transmission while voting is low, they added. Experts say the risk increases when people are gathered in indoor spaces for 15 minutes or longer, but voters typically spend only a few minutes in polling booths, don’t usually talk to each other (reducing the risk of droplet transmission), and vote in spaces that are separated by dividers or curtains.
Requiring six feet of distance between voting booths “is likely excessive and, in fact, would significantly undermine in-person voting—potentially making it more difficult for eligible citizens to cast their votes,” the authors wrote.
Read the Politico op-ed: What the CDC’s Guidelines for Polling Places Are Missing