Josh Douglas and Michael Zilis have posted this draft on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Americans overwhelmingly support various safety measures at polling places for the November 2020 election. Issues like face mask requirements, social distancing, and sanitizing polling equipment after each voter have strong support, regardless of party, even if adopting them might mean longer lines or wait times to vote. For instance, 79 percent of Americans support face mask requirements at the polls, with little difference among the views between Democrats and Republicans.
That surprising statistic comes from a representative, nationwide survey of Americans we conducted in August 2020 about their views of the election during a pandemic. Although beliefs about expanded vote-by-mail have significant partisan overtones, support for safety measures for in-person voting does not.
As of mid-September, six states (Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) will not allow concerns about COVID-19 to qualify as a valid excuse for absentee voting. These states will therefore likely have a high rate of in-person voting. But the states vary slightly on the safety measures they will employ, with only some requiring poll workers to wear masks and none imposing a mask mandate for voters. Although no voter should be turned away for not wearing a mask, the data in our survey suggests that states can do more to make voters feel more comfortable when voting in person. Given that Americans broadly support some modifications to in-person voting and also express safety concerns about polling places, the failure to adopt them could depress turnout, particularly in states that do not make absentee voting easy.
This paper presents the survey data and offers policy recommendations regarding safety measures states should employ to make Americans more comfortable when voting this fall.