Actually, voting is pretty safe

Yet with the start of in-person early voting just weeks away in some states, Emanuel is back with an update. Public-health officials have learned a lot about the transmission of COVID-19 since the spring, Emanuel told me, and the message around voting must change. “There’s a legitimate concern, but I do think we can make it much safer by following the precautions,” he said. “You don’t want people to be disenfranchised by the pandemic, and you should encourage people that it’s safe. It’s like shopping.”

In-person voting is no more risky than going to the grocery store, Emanuel argues, as long as certain safeguards are in place, the same measures many Americans have become accustomed to since the spring: Wear a mask and line up at least six feet apart. Voting locations should have plexiglass barriers separating poll workers from voters, as well as disinfectant to wipe down commonly used surfaces and objects. (In the risk-assessment chart—which Emanuel created with James P. Phillips, the chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University, and Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona—voting would also go in the same low-medium risk category as playing golf or tennis.)

Emanuel told me he hopes to correct perceptions about voting that, for many people, haven’t changed since early this spring. In April, state courts forced Wisconsin to go forward with an in-person election, siding with the GOP over the objections of the Democratic governor. Dozens of COVID-19 cases were linked to that election, and the Wisconsin experience helped galvanize a nationwide movement toward expanded voting by mail that Trump has ferociously opposed and denigrated. At the time, the state’s Democratic Party chairman, Ben Wikler, told me that the GOP’s insistence on in-person voting was a “moral atrocity.”