The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and amplified a myriad of weaknesses in our nation’s systems as well as globally. With the spotlight on these deficiencies, we also have a unique opportunity to change things for the better. One reform that should be enacted is making participating in elections easier, namely by making vote-by-mail universal.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently stated he “can’t guarantee” the safety of in-person voting in November. In a later briefing, he remarked, “We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that.” Based on the assumption that some form of social distancing will be in place in November, we need to start planning now for how the election is going to work. In a free and democratic society, people should not have to choose between their health and their right to vote. Allowing voters to fill out their ballots at home would alleviate the burden of choosing between one’s health and civic duty.
The recent election held in Wisconsin should be a chilling wakeup call for what may happen in November if nothing changes. Despite Governor Tony Evers’s attempt to cancel the election for public safety reasons, the Republican-dominated state legislature and the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked his move. During the ensuing election, volunteer poll workers dropped out, leading hundreds of polling locations to close and forcing people to stand in long lines for hours. In Milwaukee, the largest city in the state with a population of nearly 600,000 people, the normal number of polling locations of 180 was reduced to just five. More than 50 people who either worked or voted in the Wisconsin election have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Holding elections in this fashion is incredibly dangerous, not only for voters and poll workers, but for the medical workers in desperate need of masks and gowns that are instead going to election workers.
A majority of Americans support making vote-by-mail possible for everyone. A poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that 58 percent of voters supported “changing election laws to permanently allow voting by mail.” Support rises to 67 percent if only temporary changes are made to allow mail-in voting during the pandemic. And despite claims of corruption, vote-by-mail is not in fact “a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters,” as President Trump asserted. In fact, Trump had to disband his own voter fraud investigative committee after they found nothing illegal. Election fraud in general is extremely rare and election officials in states that do conduct elections via vote-by-mail report very little fraud.
Regardless of the current pandemic, it should always be a goal to make participating in democracy easier. In the 2016 election, only around 56 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots, trailing turnout in most other developed countries. And yet somehow the steps that would make it easier to vote have fallen into partisan divisions. Reforms such as making election day a holiday, same day registration, and extending early voting have been sidelined due to partisan fights.
During an appearance on Fox and Friends, Trump opined that “the things they had in there were crazy,” referring to Democratic proposals that would increase funding for vote-by-mail. “They had things – levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” However, it is unclear that greater turnout would advantage one party over the other, especially in this election. The coronavirus disproportionately impacts older people, who tend to lean more conservative. If older voters do not feel safe going to the polls in November, this would hurt Republicans more. Furthermore, if greater access to voting would mean that your party would not win, then there is a problem with your party platform. If voter suppression – which is antithetical to the democratic ideals that America stands for – is your plan for winning an election, then you are in the wrong.
We are a proud democracy, and it is paramount to our democracy that people feel safe participating. If you want to call Congress and ask your representative to expand access to vote-by-mail, the phone number is (202) 224-3121.
(Sources: Crooked Media, Washington Post, Pew Research)