Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post: As we have seen from the raft of primary election postponements, the coronavirus threatens our health and economy, but also our democracy. If voters cannot get to the polls, or are afraid to get to the polls, the legitimacy of our elections might be called into doubt, and incumbents of both parties may be tempted to seize advantage or cast doubt on the outcome.
Nathaniel Persily and Charles Stewart III write at the Lawfare blog:
Despite the challenge presented by COVID-19, the 2020 elections must go forward. The elections to be held on Nov. 3 are not optional. They cannot be postponed, even if dangers to public health remain as great as they are likely to get over the next few weeks.
They make a batch of recommendations, most of which center on shifting to a system of vote by mail and/or expanded early voting. The authors explain:
This initiative requires a commitment comparable to that of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which authorized $3 billion to states to modernize their voting systems following the 2000 election. Bills to accomplish this are being introduced in Congress now. Although reformers have proposed a host of potentially salutary mandates for the states to follow in the expenditure of these funds, Congress is more likely to appropriate money to secure the 2020 election if fewer strings are attached that trigger partisan or regional concerns.
They urge this not be used as a vehicle for partisan one-upmanship. It is essential that we “avoid a scenario in which one party protests the enactment of a major election administration change and then questions the legitimacy of whoever wins under it.” Read more.
We have ways to keep voters safe. Now we just need to use them.
John Nichols, Nation Magazine: The 2020 primary election schedule is being upended by the coronavirus outbreak, and that should ring alarm bells for the November 3 general election that will decide not just the presidency but control of Congress and statehouses across the country. Steps must be taken now—major steps—to ensure not only that the November elections go ahead as planned, but also that they aim for the highest possible turnout by guaranteeing all Americans safe and secure procedures for casting their ballots.
“No voter should have to choose between exercising their constitutional right and putting their health at risk,” says Senator Ron Wyden, who has proposed ambitious legislation that would require states and localities to develop and administer plans to operate elections in the face of “the very real threat looming this November.”
How serious is that threat? “This pandemic presents unique, novel challenges to election administrators,” says Wendy Weiser, who directs the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. “It is very different from any of the election emergencies we have seen in recent years. The nation has not prepared for it.” And that’s a big problem. “Our elections will not be perceived as fair if steps are not taken to assure that people have options for voting, no matter what happens. This is an emergency we can address, but we don’t have that much time.” Read more.
Coronavirus could heavily disrupt election processes. States should prepare by adopting vote-by-mail
Daily Kos: As the coronavirus outbreak increasingly becomes a pandemic, schools, public events, and public services are shutting down as government authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control urge people to distance themselves from those who could spread the disease. Thanks in part to Donald Trump lying to downplay the impending crisis for his own self-interest, the virus threatens to create major disruptions in many aspects of life and risk the lives of countless Americans. This is why it’s critical that we take steps as soon as possible to ensure that November’s election runs smoothly, and every state should adopt universal voting by mail.
Universal vote-by-mail works by having every registered voter mailed a ballot that they can return by mail, and, in exchange, states and localities can operate far fewer in-person voting locations and require far fewer poll workers to operate them. Ideally, the postage on ballots is prepaid, and voters have ample opportunities to cast their ballot without hassle. This includes being able to return one’s ballot by mail as late as Election Day or to return it in person at one of numerous drop box locations around their local government jurisdiction, as well being able to access a limited number of in-person voting locations for those who still want to vote that way or are physically unable to do so by mail.
As shown on the map at the top of this post (see here for a larger version), Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington have already transitioned to universal voting by mail ahead of November’s elections, and states such as California and Arizona have seen a majority of voters cast their ballots by mail in recent years. Furthermore, states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have made it considerably easier to vote absentee by mail since the last election. But a large number of states still don’t even allow absentee mail voting without an excuse, let alone mail every registered voter a ballot as the default voting method.
Adopting universal voting by mail is imperative as the coronavirus threatens to become a pandemic. Read more.
Voting by mail is key to ensuring the integrity and accessibility of November’s vote.
New York Times Editorial Board: There is no good time for a pandemic to hit. Still, it’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable moment than the one we find ourselves in, only months before some 130 million Americans expected to head to the polls to vote for the next president and thousands of other officeholders. The outcome of the November election could shape the contours of American politics and government for decades.
Right now, most people are rightly preoccupied with the immediate impacts of the coronavirus on public health and the national economy. But a functioning democracy requires elections that are free, fair, accurate and on time, even during a global health crisis.
It is almost certain that the 2020 election won’t look like any we’ve seen before. Assuming the coronavirus outbreak persists into the fall, it will pose unprecedented challenges to holding a nationwide vote, the most obvious of which is the need to keep people physically separated.
For tens of millions of Americans, the traditional visit to the local polling site on Election Day may not be an option. Several states have already postponed their primaries for this reason. That may be the right call for the time being, but it won’t work for the general election in November, the date of which is prescribed by federal law, and which is followed soon after by the constitutionally mandated inauguration of the next president on Jan. 20. Read more.
CNN: Election officials and voting rights groups are calling for a general move to an all vote-by-mail system for remaining primaries and the November general election as the spread of the novel coronavirus continues to shut down major cities and states across the US.
Ellen Weintraub, one of three current members of the Federal Election Commission and its former chairwoman, said this week that voting by mail is a “necessary and urgent” step in the face of the pandemic.
“As Congress and the White House race to save American lives and preserve America’s economy, they must also act swiftly to protect America’s democracy,” Weintraub said in a statement Thursday. “No one should have to risk their life — or the lives of their loved ones — to cast their vote.”
She joined a chorus of election officials and voting rights advocates across the country that have been pushing for a radical change to how American exercise their most fundamental right in the face of an unprecedented health crisis.
Voters in Illinois who participated in that state’s presidential primary this past week were met with health precautions like the use of social distancing, hand sanitizer and wipes that led to long lines and delayed start times at polling locations.
Currently five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — conduct elections entirely by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, while another 28 states and the District of Columbia offer “no-excuse” voting by mail. Read more.
Washington Post: The rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic has forced election officials to consider a sobering reality: The crisis could run headlong into November’s presidential election, and revamping America’s voting systems before then could be difficult and in some cases impossible.
In the past week, elections officials have been swapping advice on what it would take: enormous orders of printed ballots and envelopes, high-speed scanners capable of counting the returns and in some cases constitutional amendments to lift restrictions on who may vote by mail — and hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for it all. Read more.
Washington Post Editorial: ELECTIONS IN the United States have traditionally been marked by vigorous get-out-the-vote campaigns by candidates who leave no stone unturned in the effort to get voters to the polls. But that was not so on Tuesday amid escalating concerns about the novel coronavirus and warnings from public health experts about the danger of public gatherings. “Going to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted on Tuesday as his presidential campaign dropped typical get-out-the-vote activities. “We respect whichever choice voters make.”
Americans should not have to choose between their personal health and that of the country’s democracy. The abrupt cancellation of Ohio’s primary on the eve of Tuesday’s election, voting problems in the three states that pressed ahead and the decision by five other states to postpone future primaries underscored the need — indeed, the urgency — for measures that will ensure that everyone who wants to cast a ballot in this fall’s elections can do so without a risk to health.
Foremost among these should be expanding the ability of people to vote early and to vote by mail. Indeed, the recent primaries demonstrated how successful these reforms have been. Washington, a state hit hard and early by the coronavirus epidemic, didn’t have to wrestle with issues of public safety for voters because its March 10 primary was conducted completely, and without problems, by mail. Despite worries about the coronavirus that surrounded Tuesday’s primaries, Arizona and Florida had larger turnouts in the Democratic contests than in 2016 because they allowed — and people took advantage of — early voting. Read more.
Two lawmakers have proposed expanding mail-in voting to address health concerns. But that would inject new risks into an already unsettled election.
Politico: The spreading coronavirus is starting to create a difficult choice for the nation’s election supervisors: force people to keep voting in person, despite the risk of contagion, or rush into a vast expansion of voting by mail.
Already, the pandemic has forced Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky and Ohio to postpone their presidential primaries until later in the spring, while reportedly contributing to lower than average turnout in Tuesday’s primaries in Illinois and Florida. It has also inspired some lawmakers and activists to call for much broader use of mail-in voting, a way for Americans to cast their ballots despite the lockdowns, quarantines and limitations on crowds taking hold across the country.
But some election experts warn that an abrupt adoption of vote-by-mail systems in states that aren’t sufficiently prepared would introduce new risks and avenues for disruption. The results, they say, could bring widespread confusion or even disenfranchise voters.
“Rolling something as complex as this out at large-scale introduces thousands of small problems — some of which are security problems, some of which are reliability problems, some of which are resource-management problems — that only become apparent when you do it,” said Matt Blaze, an election security expert and computer science professor at Georgetown Law School. “Which is why changing anything right before a high-stakes election carries risks.”
That’s in addition to other hurdles: Some states would have to change their election laws to allow more time for the labor-intensive task of processing mail-in ballots, which requires more work and people than other types of ballots. Read more.
The coronavirus has left states rapidly searching for ways to protect democracy’s most sacred institution.
New York Times: In Wisconsin, Democrats sued elections officials to extend voting deadlines.
In Rhode Island, the secretary of state wants all 788,000 registered voters to receive absentee ballot applications.
In Maryland, a special election to replace the late Representative Elijah E. Cummings will be conducted entirely by mail.
As the coronavirus outbreak upends daily life and tears at the social fabric of the country, states are rapidly searching for ways to protect the most sacred institution in a democracy: voting.
With gatherings of people suddenly presenting an imminent health threat, state officials and voting rights activists have begun calling for an enormous expansion of voting by mail — for both the remaining Democratic presidential primary race and, planning for the worst-case scenario, the general election in November.
“The D.N.C. is urging the remaining primary states to use a variety of other critical mechanisms that will make voting easier and safer for voters and election officials alike,” Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement late Tuesday. “The simplest tool is vote by mail, which is already in use in a number of states and should be made available to all registered voters.”
While rules vary somewhat state to state, 33 states and the District of Columbia currently collect ballots by mail or permit “no excuse” absentee voting, in which people can vote absentee for any reason. Colorado, Washington State and Oregon have all-mail elections. Read more.
Our top priority right now is to make sure that people are safe in the face of this global pandemic. Federal, state and local health-care providers and first responders are working overtime to protect people, and we must give them the resources they need to do their jobs. The federal government must also fund testing, vaccine development and economic assistance for those whose lives have been turned upside down.
In the midst of this crisis, we must also remember to protect the foundation of our democracy by ensuring that every eligible American can safely cast a ballot in the upcoming elections. The coronavirus should not stop our citizens from casting their ballots.
The stakes are high. In less than eight months, elections will be held across the country that determine not only who the president will be but also the outcome of 11 gubernatorial elections, 35 of 100 U.S. Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Primary elections underway across the country will decide who will be on the ballot in November, and we have already seen them affected by this pandemic.
Last week, officials in Louisiana and Georgia announced that they will postpone their primary elections; Wyoming officials altered their caucus process; and New York state has made some modifications to its local primary elections. And while states can shift primary dates, the Nov. 3 federal election is set by federal law, as the Constitution mandates that the new Congress convene on Jan. 3 and the president is inaugurated on Jan. 20. Read more.