Protecting Your Safety as You Exercise Your Right to Vote

There are several issues that are unique to the 2020 election cycle.  The media has recently run stories on preparations for the upcoming election.  All the issues with the pandemic, civil unrest, disruptions as well as the usual high volume of potential voters with soliciting/pamphleteering/electioneering limitations are all being prepared for and enforced.  You should feel confident that the issues are known to officials and being addressed.  

Voters should be reassured that issues regarding the presence of COVID19 have been addressed.  The primaries in August enabled training, techniques, and procedures to be refined and implemented.  Social distancing, mask enforcement, and disinfection efforts have all been implemented.  The people should know that mitigation steps have been taken to keep them safe.

One unfortunate aspect of COVID response is that certain steps for physical protection are diminished.  Voting lines are more spread out to allow for social distancing.  This also means fewer people can be packed into the building.  Where this has a direct impact is on the ability of state laws to protect the voter from the demonstrator are diminished.

Most of the things you need to do to keep yourself safe are basic steps that should be taken in your normal life.  Here are a few suggestions that should be considered when you head out to vote in person.

  • Keep your head up – Lines are boring and we look for distractions. Smartphones are often used to pass the time.  We become so involved in the screen we tend not to pay attention to our surroundings.  It is imperative that you are scanning your environment, looking for suspicious situations, and being alert to a change in the tone of the crowd.  It is okay to watch a show, send an email or text or read the news.  You need to frequently drop your hand down to your side and look up to scan your surroundings.  Dropping your arm to your side refocuses your mind.  Simply looking up while still holding the phone at your chest doesn’t alter your thought process enough to check for safety.
  • Practice Situational Awareness – We must always be aware of our surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations. This can harder to do when distracted. When waiting in line it is imperative that you are scanning your environment, looking for suspicious situations, and being alert to a change in the tone of the crowd. Keep your phone use to a minimum.
  • Know the area – You may be familiar with the polling station as it could be a church, school, or other government building that you have been to countless times. How well do you know the neighborhood?  Most of us pull into the parking lot and walk in then leave without ever considering the environment.  You should take the time to drive around the block and see if there are fences, alleys, creeks, forests, other businesses, neighborhoods, etc. that would change the way you could leave the area.  If something happens at the station and you are forced to evacuate on foot you should already have an idea of where you could go to seek cover and safety.  This could also help if you need to find a place to park if the polling station lot is full or closed for various reasons.
  • Know the building – Before entering a building you should start to look around for emergency exits and evacuation areas. Most of us are creatures of habit and use the same door for entrance and exit. If you enter any building you need to mentally take not of exits to utilize them in an emergency.
  • Be open minded – We have all been around people that are extremely impassioned in their political beliefs. Understand you are there to exercise your right to vote and you are not supposed to be attempting to convince others how to vote.  Avoid politics while talking in line as it can be construed to violate the prohibitions on electioneering.  If someone is confronting you on your beliefs simply thank them for their passion.

The biggest concern for the city, county, state, and country is that some people will not feel safe and decline to vote.  There is an early indication that protestors may want to disrupt or intimidate others on election day.  Your vote is your voice, and no one should feel the right to prevent you from expressing yourself.