Election Day looked very different this year, as Americans turned out to cast their ballots amid the country's surging coronavirus epidemic. The epidemic was evident both in the way voters cast their ballots—largely clad in masks and armed with hand sanitizer—and in for whom they cast their ballots, with many saying the coronavirus was their top-of-mind issue when choosing a candidate.
Many voters ranked the epidemic as a top issue facing America
Preliminary results from AP VoteCast—a national survey of 110,482 voters conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for the Associated Press and other news outlets—showed that four in 10 voters ranked the epidemic as a top issue in Tuesday's presidential race.
But although many voters considered the epidemic a top issue, preliminary results from exit polls and voter surveys on Tuesday showed that some other issues mattered more to voters. For instance, preliminary estimates from exit polls conducted by Edison Research showed that only one in five voters viewed the coronavirus as the top issue affecting their vote. Instead, more voters considered the economy and racial equality to be the top issues affecting their votes, according to early estimates from the poll.
In addition, exit polls and surveys conducted Tuesday revealed partisan divides over which issues voters thought were most important when casting their votes. Generally, the polls showed that voters who favored former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party's candidate, named the epidemic as the top issue facing the country, while voters who favored President Trump, the Republican Party's candidate, ranked the economy and jobs as the most pressing issue. For example, AP VoteCast found that 60% of respondents who voted for Biden named the coronavirus epidemic as the most important issue facing America, while nearly 50% of respondents who voted for President Trump said the economy was the most important issue.
How the epidemic shaped in-person voting
America's coronavirus epidemic didn't just affect which candidates voters supported, it also affected how they cast their ballots.
According to data from the U.S. Elections Project, a record-setting number of 101,214,494 Americans voted early for Tuesday's election via mail-in, drop-off, and early in-person voting. However, close to 36 million people still voted in person on Election Day, the data show.
Polling places throughout the country took several precautions to prevent the "election from becoming a Covid-19 superspreader event," STAT News reports.
While wearing a mask while voting in person was encouraged in many states, it was not always required.
In Wisconsin, for instance, voters were urged but not required to wear masks at polling stations, and polling sites had extra masks available to hand out to voters who did not have one.
Voters in California also were not required to wear masks. However, many polling places offered voters masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, STAT News reports.
Many states also allowed people to vote curbside to avoid getting out of their cars and standing in socially distanced lines, according to STAT News.
Meanwhile, some polling places in New York handed voters their own, individual pens for voting, while other states sanitized pens between each use, STAT News reports. In one Ohio county, polling places offered people hand sanitizer and plastic gloves to wear as they held their ballots.
Ty Key—who voted in Long Island, New York—told STAT News that poll volunteers "clean[ed] everything." He said, "[A]s soon as you go to vote they wipe everything down."
Similarly, a voter at a suburban Los Angeles polling place who would not give his name told STAT News, "[E]verything was disinfected as soon as I touched it."
In addition, some polling places set up Plexiglas between poll workers and voters, including a polling location at West Allis City Hall in Wisconsin, according to STAT News.
Many people who voted in person on Tuesday said they felt safe because of the mitigation measures polling places implemented to prevent the coronavirus's spread. "Sanitary-wise, they did an excellent job," New York voter Judy Pepenella said, adding that she felt comfortable bringing her 91-year-old mother along with her to vote.
Dennis Randall—a voter in Kansas City, Missouri—told the Wall Street Journal that, at his polling station, "[t]he thing that impressed [him] is you [didn't] have physical contact with anything except the pen."
But that wasn't always the case. Some voters at Brooklyn College told STAT News that the location was overly crowded inside.
"Inside there were a lot of people milling about. Even the privacy booths were too close together," said voter Isobela Modica. "They tried to direct us from one side to empty privacy booths on the other, and I just said, 'I'm not comfortable going through that crowd,' … because there were easily 25 people in the space between where we had to go."
Peter Scheerer, a physician and public health professional who voted at the college, had similar concerns. "It's packed in there. It's busier than I would be safe with," he told STAT News.
Several voters took their own precautions—with many wearing masks and using hand sanitizer.
Caleb Habeck—a pediatrician who voted in Akron, Ohio—said, "I used some hand sanitizer before and after I went in, but they were wiping down the equipment really well, so it didn't seem like I needed to do anything else."
In Des Moines, hand sanitizer on people's hands even caused a ballot scanner to jam at a polling place, Kevin Hall, a spokesperson for Iowa's secretary of state, said (Abraham/B, Reuters, 10/3; Williams, The Hill, 11/3; Webber/Fingerhut, Associated Press, 11/4; Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 10/4; Medina/Russonello, New York Times, 11/3; Ross et al., STAT News, 11/3; Olson, Associated Press, 10/4; Carlton, Wall Street Journal, 11/3; New York Times, accessed 11/4; Wilkerson, Vox, 11/2; U.S. Elections Project data, accessed 11/4).