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Risk of In-Person Voting per County Evaluated by Public Health Researchers

Public Health researchers have created a map showing risk levels for in-person voting for each county in the country. With that information, voters can make safe and informed decisions in the middle of a pandemic and an election.

When it comes to voting during a pandemic, Americans have questions. Can they vote by mail? What is the risk of voting in person? What could it mean for their health to vote in person?

A team of professors and students in BYU's Department of Public Health, Department of Statistics, BYU Law School and an election expert from the University of Connecticut prepared a comprehensive analysis of the risks of voting in person for each county in the country. They provided information on whether residents can vote by mail or vote in person for each county, as well as specific health risks such as rates of smoking, heart disease, and people living below the poverty line.

To create the map showing the indices of levels of risk for counties, the researchers gathered data about age, minority status, economic status, and health of the county residents, and created a website to showcase the data. The data includes information on states where residents need to fit a certain criteria to vote by mail. The data runs parallel with the legal component of the research and a survey measuring trust in government, voting practices, and reactions to the pandemic.

“The most at-risk counties are the one you’d expect,” said Jenna Show, a public health student, “counties in the southeast, and counties with high poverty and older populations, and some counties where it’s hard to vote by mail.”

It’s important for politicians and voters to be aware of the risks, because some voters might, as Shaw said, “have to choose between voting and risking their health.” Douglas Spencer, the election expert from the University of Connecticut, said, “It’s clear that some people are at risk of death or sickness, and their leaders haven’t made decisions with their best interests health-wise in mind.”

It’s also important for election officials to be aware of the data. Dr. Chantel Sloan said, “The idea is to inform election officials that this is serious for your county, that this could cause an outbreak.”

With this map, voters can have the confidence of understanding their risks for in-person voting with specific information about their county. They can have the answers they need to make decisions in the midst of a pandemic and an election.