The One COVID Safety Precaution Dr. Fauci Won't Endorse
Though this could be a safe alternative for voting, Dr. Fauci was tight-lipped about giving his approval.
With the presidential election looming, officials and citizens alike are wondering what voting will look like amid the coronavirus pandemic. Though in-person voting has long been the most popular method of contributing to the democratic process, many have pointed to mail-in voting as a potentially safer option, especially for elderly people or those who are more at risk of severe COVID-19. However, in a recent interview with The Washington Post, Anthony Fauci, MD, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), would not endorse mail-in voting, seeing as it's become a highly controversial topic with President Donald Trump.
"I don't see any reason why, if people maintain that type of physical distancing, wearing a mask, and washing hands—why you cannot, at least where I vote, go to a place and vote," Fauci told The Washington Post's Jacqueline Alemany on Aug. 7.
He pointed to grocery stores and other essential establishments as examples of how to operate safely with these guidelines in mind, adding that going to the polls should be harmless as long as everyone takes the proper precautions.
When pressed further about mail-in voting, Fauci was hesitant to respond. "I don't want to comment on mail-in voting, Jackie, because that almost certainly is going to be used as a soundbite," he said. "It's a sport now in Washington to pit me against the president, and I don't really want to do that."
President Trump has been vocal about his opposition to mail-in voting, often tweeting that it could skew results and cause widespread voter fraud.
Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mail-in voting is an acceptable alternative to in-person voting. "The more an individual interacts with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread," the CDC explains. "Elections with only in-person voting on a single day are higher risk for COVID-19 spread because there will be larger crowds and longer wait time."
Instead, the CDC recommends that there should be a variety of voting options and periods, so that people can be spaced out and not crowded indoors at a polling station while they wait. The agency notes:
Lower risk election polling settings include those with:
-a wide variety of voting options
-longer voting periods (more days and/or more hours)
-any other feasible options for reducing the number of voters who congregate indoors in polling locations at the same time
In regards to the president's concern about voting fraud, The Washington Post recently conducted an analysis of data from three vote-by-mail states—Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—with help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). According to their findings, there were "only 372 cases of potential fraud out of roughly 14.6 million ballots cast by mail in 2016 and 2018." That translates to 0.0025 percent.
In fact, research has shown that voting by mail actually increases voter turnout. A recent Stanford University study found that voting participation jumped by 2 percentage points in states that allowed universal mail-in voting between 1996 and 2018. "Vote-by-mail offers voters considerable convenience, increases turnout rates modestly, but has no discernible effect on party vote shares or the partisan share of the electorate," the study concluded. And for more information from Fauci, check out Dr. Fauci Says There's Now Evidence That Coronavirus Spreads This Way.