Hand Sanitizer Could Ruin Your Ballot, So Use It After You Vote

One of the sneakiest ways your vote may be disqualified is because of hand sanitizer.

“Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not be compatible with electronic voting equipment and may damage paper ballots,” says voting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Poll workers and voters should ensure their hands are completely dry before handling these items.“

That’s in part because ballots that are wet or soggy from hand sanitizer are known to shred and clog electronic machines, as they have done in New Hampshire and Virginia.

The CDC does recommend having hand sanitizer available at every step of voting at every polling place, but there are a few things to know ― and a proper way to use it.

First, if you are worried of catching COVID-19 from the ballot itself, recognize that the risk of catching coronavirus from a paper ballot is very, very low. “Spread through inanimate objects such as pens, or touching the surface, or mail is theoretically extraordinarily low,” said Thomas Russo, chief of the infectious disease division at the University of Buffalo in New York.

On the other hand, the risk of getting your vote ruined from too much hand sanitizer is very, very real. If you decide to disinfect your ballot, you could end up like the handful of Sacramento County, California, voters who used hand sanitizer on their mail-in ballots. It smeared the ink, causing the ballots to be unreadable to tabulation machines.

The Sacramento voters were given replacement ballots, but it’s a good example of how not to vote on Election Day.

How To Use Hand Sanitizer While Voting

If your hands are still wet from hand sanitizer while you vote, you are not as protected as you could be from COVID-19. Experts say you need to rub hand sanitizer until it is dry on your skin for it to be maximally effective.

Russo recommended sanitizing your hands after you finish touching all the potentially contaminated surfaces, rather than every time you touch a surface while voting. That’s what he did when he voted in person.

“I don’t do it in between each thing, I just do it at the end,” he said.

Keep in mind that “even if you get viable virus or infectious particles on your hands, as long as you don’t touch your nose, mouth or eyes prior to washing them [with sanitizer], you’re safe,” Russo added.

The risk of catching coronavirus during in-person voting is relatively low for healthy individuals practicing social distancing and mask usage, but you should assume that there is a small but finite chance, and definitely sanitize your hands after voting. Just remember to keep the ballot dry.