Doctors’ recommendations: Vote for better health in Pennsylvania 2020 | Opinion
As physicians, we are concerned not only about an individual patient’s health but also the…
As physicians, we are concerned not only about an individual patient’s health but also the health of all citizens, AKA the public health. So many key issues such as access to care, women’s health, the cost of care and the pandemic management, just to name a few, are very much dependent on our elected leaders. This upcoming Election Day will determine whether the health of the Nation remains in peril or gets on the road to recovery.
The disastrous COVID-19 pandemic exposed glaring wounds in the national health care management that only your vote can cure.
We are as frustrated by the persistence of the pandemic as all of you; indeed it has made voting itself a health issue in 2020. Just as doctors are expected to give advice on how to prevent injuries and illness by wearing seatbelts and eating healthy, we have a duty to advise you on how to stay safe while exercising your right to vote. We know how infectious COVID-19 is. If the president cannot keep it out of the White House, it is a lot more contagious than most of us want to admit.
We’ve already seen that crowded in-person voting in the Wisconsin primaries was tied to an increase in COVID-19 cases. As doctors, we are concerned and want to do what we can to prevent this from happening here in Pennsylvania.
The simple answer is mail in ballots. Voter registration ends on October 19 and mail in ballots must be received by October 27. If you are not registered, you cannot get a ballot. Don’t wait. Do it now. Avoid crowds and mark your ballot in the comfort of your home. Mail in ballots also gives you time to research the candidates or issues so you can make better informed choices. Because we can’t predict when or where the pandemic will flare up, it’s safest to request an absentee ballot even if you normally vote in person.
You may shy away from mail-in voting if it is unfamiliar, or you don’t trust that the mail-in ballot will be received and counted fairly. Frequent changes due to litigation have added to the confusion. This makes familiarity with how elections are conducted a health issue.
Here is the truth: vote by mail is safe and secure, but be sure to follow instructions EXACTLY to avoid the common mistakes that cause ballots to be rejected. Pennsylvania requires two envelopes for your ballot: place your completed ballot in the inner security ballot envelope, then put the sealed security envelope into the outer mailing envelope. Complete the declaration on the outer mailing envelope, including signature, date, printed name and address. Make sure both envelopes are securely sealed. If you miss any of these steps your ballot will likely be rejected. Complete information is available at this official site: votespa.com/.
Ballots must be postmarked by 8 p.m. Nov. 3, but plan to return your ballot as early as possible. Voters who have been harmed by the USPS not delivering their medications on time are understandably concerned about whether their ballot will be delivered.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania currently allows voters to personally return their ballot to their county’s main election office or secure drop boxes. If you don’t want to mail it, many counties have designated satellite sites to accept your ballot (with your ID, socially distant and masked).
Finally, if you decide to vote in-person, protect yourself and your community with these practices: wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, and practice hand hygiene. If available in your county, vote early to avoid crowding at the polls on election day. Be prepared so nothing prolongs your exposure at the polls.
First time voters need photo ID. Bring a completed sample ballot to speed the process of marking your ballot. If your county uses voting machines, use it to quickly verify that your choices on the paper printout are accurate. If you requested a mail-in ballot that you haven’t used, take it with you to the polls to exchange for a regular ballot.
We offer this medical advice for healthy voting. It is not only exercising your right to vote that matters, but by choosing leaders who value public health that will help make for a healthier country.
Dr. Walter Tsou, MPH, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania
Dr. Mark Tulchinsky, FACNM, FSNMMI, Professor of Radiology and Medicine, Penn State Health