Is COVID-19 making you think twice about voting in person?
You aren’t alone. Safety is on everyone’s mind.
That’s why you can expect some rules at your polling place as early voting begins Monday and culminates with Election Day, Nov. 3.
“Part of the process of preparing includes safety not only for our voters, but for our poll workers,” said Roberto Rodriguez, spokesman for Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections. “Safety in the COVID 19 atmosphere is paramount during election planning.”
Officials from Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties say the stepped-up safety measures made for the primary election in August will also be in place for the general election.
Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 19, and ends Nov. 1 in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. In Monroe, early voting runs from Oct. 19 to Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 3.
In addition to the presidential race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the general election includes key local races. Voters will decide congressional races, the Miami-Dade mayor, and the Broward sheriff and supervisor of elections. Municipalities across Miami-Dade, Broward and the Keys also have local elections for commission seats and charter changes. charter. Florida voters will also have to say on six constitutional amendments.
But there are rules you need to know before you head to the polls.
“Nothing has changed,” said Steve Vancore, a spokesman for Broward Supervisor of Elections. “You still need a mask.”
The mask must cover your mouth and nose at all times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you wear a mask that fits snugly against the side of your face and is made up of two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric.
You also need to stand at least six feet apart from others while waiting in line. That might make the line seem longer than usual.
“The infrastructure in place is designed to accommodate several hundred thousand voters,” Vancore said. “We are preparing for it, but we are not expecting long lines because so many voters are voting by mail.”
One possible plus side of voting during the pandemic? Campaigners might actually keep their distance as you walk to the polls.
Here’s more of what you need to know if you plan to vote early in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties during the COVID-19 pandemic:
CAN I BRING MY OWN PEN TO THE POLLS TO REDUCE COVID-19 RISK?
You can bring a pen, but it might not be necessary in Broward or Monroe. All Broward voting precincts will be giving each voter a free sealed pen that can be used to fill out the ballot and then be taken home as a souvenir, according to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office.
And instead of an “I Voted” sticker, voters in Monroe County will receive a free pen at the polls, according to the Monroe County Supervisor of Elections office.
If you want to use your own pen, take note: In Miami-Dade and Monroe, the ink needs to be blue or black. In Broward and Palm Beach counties, the ink needs to be black.
It’s likely that poll workers will have hand sanitizer or wipes on hand as many did during the primary. It’s not advisable to bring a bottle of Lysol and spray it around others, although some poll workers had their own cans earlier this year.
ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS TO THE MASK MANDATES?
In Miami-Dade, where you have to wear a mask in public, both inside and outside, exceptions include children younger than 2, anyone who has a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering, and anyone who is hearing-impaired or is communicating with someone who is hearing-impaired.
Broward County’s mask mandate exceptions are similar to those of Miami-Dade. One noticeable difference: You don’t have to wear a mask outside in Broward County unless social distancing (staying at least six feet away from others) is not possible.
Mandates in Monroe and Palm Beach counties require masks to be worn inside. You also need to wear a mask outside if social distancing is not possible.
The Palm Beach County’s Supervisor of Elections Office said that while masks are required at all times, voters will not be turned away from the polling center if they refuse to wear a mask.
In Miami-Dade and Broward, no one will be allowed into the precinct without a mask. Miami-Dade officials said they will give people a mask if they don’t have one or they will let the voter fill out their ballot outside of the building.
WILL I BE SOCIALLY DISTANCED FROM OTHERS WHILE IN LINE AND AT THE VOTING BOOTH?
Expect to adhere to social distancing rules.
Both the Miami-Dade and Broward County Supervisor of Elections offices say that floor markings will be spread around each precinct to help people stay at least six feet away from others.
In Miami-Dade County, the “privacy booth attendant will be directing voters to the appropriate booth in order to maintain social distancing guidelines,” Rodriguez said.
Voting booths in Palm Beach County will also be separated for social distancing, according to the Supervisor of Elections office.
In Broward County, voters are encouraged to stagger their entry to reduce the number of people inside the area at a time, said Vancore, the Broward elections spokesman. For voters who really want to stay away from others, you can always try to keep at least one empty booth between you and others if the precinct isn’t busy.
What about in the Keys?
“I’‘m going to say maybe,” said Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin. “I have some precincts I can and some I can’t. That’s a hard question to answer. I’ve mailed out 28,000 vote by mail ballots. I don’t even know how many people will show up at the polls. ... They’re not going to be in there that long.”
CAN I STILL TURN IN MY VOTE-BY-MAIL BALLOT?
In Miami-Dade, sealed ballots can be dropped off at early voting sites from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. beginning Oct. 19 and end ending Nov. 1. On Nov. 2 and 3, ballots can be brought until 7 p.m. to four locations:
▪ Miami-Dade Elections Department, 2700 NW 87th Ave.
▪ The Elections Department’s Branch Office, located in the lobby of the Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 NW First St.
▪ North Dade Regional Library, 2455 NW 183rd St. in Miami Gardens
▪ South Dade Regional Library, 10750 SW 211th St. in Cutler Bay
In Broward, mail-in ballots can be dropped off at 22 early voting sites from 7 to 7 p.m. There are also secure drop boxes available 24 hours a day, seven days a week until 7 p.m. Nov. 3. Those are:
▪ Voting Equipment Center at the Lauderhill Mall (rear entrance), 1501 NW 40th Ave. in Lauderhill
▪ Broward County Administration Building, 115 S. Andrews Ave. (Brickell Avenue entrance) in Fort Lauderdale
If you live in Palm Beach County, you can find a list of locations to drop off your ballot at https://www.pbcelections.org/. For Monroe County voters, visit https://www.keys-elections.org/Voter-Information/Vote-by-Mail
WHERE DO I VOTE AND WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING?
Every registered voter is assigned a precinct for Election Day, Nov. 3. Make sure you check your voter registration card to see where your polling place is. Broward offers an easy way to look up someone’s precinct on its election page. Miami-Dade also allows a person to check their polling place and get other information for voting.
For early voting, you are able to vote at any of the locations as long as it is in the county in which you are registered to vote. So if you live in Broward, but work in Miami-Dade, you can’t vote in Miami-Dade during your lunch hour.
In both counties, voters must bring photo identification.
Voters can also bring a sample ballot. And officials encourage people to do so in order to cut down the amount of time you are in the booth.
For more information in Miami-Dade, call 305-499-VOTE (8683). In Broward, call the main office from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 954-357-7050.
WHAT OTHER SAFETY MEASURES ARE THERE AT THE POLLS?
Voters in Miami-Dade and Broward will see signs placed in the precinct and outside encouraging social distancing. Workers will be wearing masks and face shields. Common areas will be wiped more frequently.
Broward walks voters through the process in a video, showing how a voter simply has to hold up an ID to be scanned.
Miami-Dade is encouraging voters to “review your sample ballot in advance of coming to vote.”
“You can even mark it and bring it with you,” the department said in its safety tip sheet. “Knowing your selections in advance of arriving will speed up the process and allow you to exit the facility faster.”
In Palm Beach County, plexiglass shields will also be erected between poll workers and voters to help enforce social distancing.
Miami Herald staff writer Gwen Filosa contributed to this report.