The Importance of Voting in a Pandemic

October 29, 2020|12:13 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Jeanne Ayers, RN, MPHIf you haven’t already, please make a plan to vote. You may be wondering why we should vote in the middle of a pandemic, when there are so many stresses on our lives and the process feels so polarized. But voting has a direct impact on health. It is one way that we care for our family, our community, and one another. In fact, the issues we vote on have a bigger impact on our health than our personal choices because our community conditions define the choices available to us. Policy decisions on housing, education, infrastructure, climate, jobs, and healthcare are directly linked to our health and the well-being of our communities.

We all play a role in impacting these policies by either participating or not participating in the decisions that impact us. We are all responsible for creating the world we live in.

I became aware of the connections between government and everyday life with my early experience growing up on a family farm. As the fourth generation of my family in a rural Minnesota community, it became clear to me that everything about the way we lived had to be figured out with our neighbors. Decisions about access to electricity, roads, schools, grain marketing, and even recovery from the cropland damage of the dust bowl years, were decided through a combination of individual and community efforts—and then supported and sustained through public policies. Our elected bodies made many decisions and investments to create the conditions to assure everyone an opportunity to thrive.

Today, policy making can feel painfully distant from our lives. But as a public health leader, I can attest that our participation is now even more important to our health. Differences in voting and civic participation are related to differences in health outcomes. Research shows voter participation is associated with better health. A study of 44 countries (including the United States) found that voter participation was associated with better self-reported health, even after controlling for individual and country characteristics. In another study, individuals who did not vote reported poorer health in subsequent years. Voting, and assuring that everyone has an opportunity to vote safely, is how we create a healthy future, together.

Public health and election officials are working to assure we can all vote safely if you are voting early in person or on Election Day, Nov. 3. You can follow these simple safety tips to protect yourself, your family, neighbors, and election workers.

  • Wear a mask, even if you are outside.
  • Avoid doing anything that may tempt you to remove the mask such as eating, drinking or talking.
  • Speed the process of voting by reviewing a sample ballot and being prepared.
  • Vote at off-peak times to avoid crowds.
  • If you don’t feel well or you or a family member have a disability, contact your local election officials about your voting options.
  • Wash your hands before and after voting.
  • Do not disinfect or wipe down the voting equipment yourself.
  • Look for single use voting supplies and limit your contact with public surfaces.
  • Do your best to maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet from others.
  • Observe signs to help you move safely around the polling place.
  • Leave children at home with a responsible guardian while you vote if at all possible.
  • Check HealthyVoting.org for more information on healthy voting in your state.

Jeanne Ayers, RN, MPH, is a senior advisor for VoteSafe Public Health. She is also the former state health officer and administrator of the Division of Public Health for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.