Proper Protective (Voting) Equipment: How Covid-19 Safety Measures Shaped In-Person Voting Experiences During the 2020 Election

AuthorJoseph Coll
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2022, Vol. 50(6) 798810
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221112396
Proper Protective (Voting) Equipment: How
Covid-19 Safety Measures Shaped In-Person
Voting Experiences During the 2020 Election
Joseph Coll
Leading up to the 2020 election, many Americans were worried about casting a ballot in-person due to the Covid-19 pandemic
and supported measures to protect voters at the voting booths. Addressing these concerns, election administrators enacted
multiple Covid safety measures (e.g., routinely cleaning voting booths, wearing face masks, and providing singl e use ballot pens).
Given votershealth concerns related to the pandemic and support for safety measures at the ballot box, the presence of Covid
safety protocols may increase how safe voters feel voting in-person and evaluations of their voting experience. Using the 2020
Survey of the Performance of American Elections, this study f‌inds that the presence of Covid safety meas ures increased feelings
of voting safety, evaluations of poll workers, and the positivity of the voting experience, but typically not polling place
evaluations; though, effects differ by Covid safety policy.
Covid-19, voter safety, voter experiences, voter perceptions, survey of the performance of American elections
The smooth administration of elections is critical for voter
perceptions of and participation in the democratic process.
Previous work has shown that election administration can
affect voter evaluations of poll workers and polling places
(Claassen et al., 2008;Stein & Vonnahme,2012), thei r voting
experience (Stein et al., 2008), their conf‌idence in the ac-
curacy of the vote count (Atkeson et al., 2010;King, 2017),
whether they renege on voting (Lamb, 2021), and if they
decide to cast a ballot in the next election (Pettigrew, 2021).
At the same time, election administrators and street level
bureaucrats were put in a diff‌icult position when it came to
conducting the 2020 presidential election. Despite large
concerns in the public over the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic
(Kamisar & Holzberg, 2020), many Americans still intended
to vote in-person. As such, administrators were tasked with
conducting elections in a way that would allow for safe
in-person voting while not negatively impacting voter experi-
ences. To facilitate safe, in-person voting, election jurisdictions
across the country employed a host of Covid protection
measures, such as wearing face coverings, socially dis-
tanced voting, and cleaning voting booths between voters
(National Governors Association, 2020). Though previous
work has examined how changes to the voting and regis-
tration process affected voter turnout during the 2020
election (e.g., Curiel & Clark, 2021), less work has
examined how changes to the design of in-person polling
places shaped voter perceptions of the voting process.
To investigate the impact of Covid-19 safety features on
in-person voting experiences, this study uses data from the
2020 Survey of the Performance of American Elections
(Stewart, 2021). The presence of Covid safety policies is
measured using voter self-reports of poll workers wearing
face masks, poll workers wearing face shields, protective
barriers between voters and workers, protective barriers
between voting booths, voting lines spaced further apart,
voting booths spaced further apart, hand sanitizer availability,
single use pen availability, and routine booth cleaning, with
the f‌irst six policies aimed at air transmission reduction and
the f‌inal three at surface transmission reduction. These pol-
icies were also used to create an additive index of how safe
the polling place was set up.
Results from a series of two-stage Heckman selection
models to account for selection bias f‌ind voters felt safer
Political Science, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA
Department of Politics, Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, TN,
Corresponding Author:
Joseph Coll, Department of Politics, Sewanee: The University of the South,
735 University Avenue, Sewanee, TN 37383, USA.

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