Here’s a 50-state breakdown of what systems election administrators have and don’t have in place to protect the 2020 election from the Covid-19 pandemic
Brennan Center for Justice: The Brennan Center has laid out steps election administrators should undertake to ensure that voting is accessible, safe, and secure in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. While significant changes across the country are needed, not all states are starting from the same place. The table below shows where states currently stand on some of our key recommendations concerning voting by mail, early voting, use of vote centers, and voter registration. Read more.
FiveThirtyEight: The 2020 election will likely be different thanks to the new coronavirus. In fact, COVID-19 has already left its mark on the Democratic nomination race, with many states postponing their primaries.
So it’s likely that in the coming months, states will begin to move toward allowing more voters to mail in their ballots, or at least cast votes early to spread people out. It’s entirely possible that Election Day 2020 will be more like Election Month (or perhaps months, depending on how long it takes to count the ballots).
That means between now and November, states and election administrators are going to have to make lots of decisions about how they conduct elections. How they manage this may affect who votes and whose vote is counted, how campaigns operate, and perhaps even the level of uncertainty in the polls. In short, the mechanisms of the voting process may turn out to be as important this year as what the candidates say.
We’re not starting from scratch, however. In 2016, roughly two in five voters cast their ballots early or by mail, which marked a record share of ballots cast by methods other than in person on Election Day. Read more.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, Washington Post: The coronavirus pandemic poses a terrifying threat to life and a staggering test to our leaders. The unseemly spectacle of lawmakers scrambling to craft a response in the midst of a corporate lobbying feeding frenzy reveals that neither the president nor the legislators yet comprehend the scope of the action needed. The focus, naturally, has been on how to mobilize to meet health-care needs, help Americans survive an economic calamity that is no fault of their own and revive the economy without letting Wall Street and corporate lobbies steal us blind. But we must not forget this virus’s threat to democracy itself: Any reform package must include dramatic steps to guarantee that Americans can vote this fall. It is time for Congress to pass universal vote-at-home (better known as vote-by-mail) legislation.
The virus’s toll on our election system is already plain to see. Several states have postponed their primaries. In states that went ahead, voters increasingly were wary of going to the polls. Many states shut down polling places, moving them out of nursing homes and other places at risk. Many scrambled to find polling workers, as elderly volunteers chose not to risk their lives. Read more.
The New Yorker: Early Tuesday morning, Ohio became the fourth state—after Louisiana, Georgia, and Kentucky—to postpone a primary election because of covid-19. The decision, which came just hours before polls were scheduled to open, was made by Governor Mike DeWine, who argued that voting would put older Americans, especially poll workers, at risk of contracting the virus. In response, John Cranley, the mayor of Cincinnati, issued a public statement. “I believe the Governor made this decision because he believes it is right for public health,” he wrote. “However, I worry that the precedent could haunt future elections by people who are not motivated by the same public good.” In Ohio, voters already have the right to request an absentee ballot, and send it in through the mail. Because it seems unlikely that a new in-person election could be held anytime soon, Cranley continued, “I am calling on the State to mail absentee ballots to all registered voters and encourage mail-in voting.”
Primary and local election dates are, to an extent, fungible. When Hurricane Andrew ravaged parts of Florida, in 1992, and Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, thirteen years later, officials changedthe dates of pending elections. September 11, 2001, was a municipal primary day in New York. After the planes hit, voting was halted and rescheduled for two weeks later. More recently, the 2018 New York primary was moved to avoid conflicting with both 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah. General elections are different. Their dates are set by federal law, so changing them would require an act of Congress and the blessing of the President. Even then, a date change would, most likely, have to withstand a challenge in the courts.
Lately, I’ve been hearing people point out that a Presidential election was held in the midst of the Civil War, which illustrates either the commitment of American voters or the unyielding calendar of our democracy. A pandemic, with its invisible enemy, presents a more miasmic challenge to voting, though. Microbes are indiscriminate: anyone and everyone is susceptible. But, while it is true that public polling places present a threat to public health, it is equally true that not voting is a threat to the health of the Republic. Could Donald Trump, who in the past has “joked” about staying in office past his term, use covid-19 to subvert the electoral process? A recent piece in Slate lays out a frightening scenario where Trump could, in essence, hijack the Electoral College. Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “Election Meltdown,” told me that, in such a scenario, “there would be rioting in the streets.” Read more.
Washington Post: Here’s a good piece of news amid the parade of horrors: House Democrats are set to introduce their own version of the stimulus, and importantly, it includes a set of provisions that would potentially prevent coronavirusfrom scuttling this fall’s elections.
Brookings: Abraham Lincoln could not vote for his own reelection in 1864. His home state of Illinois required all voters to physically present themselves at the polling station in order to exercise their franchise. In the midst of a national emergency—the Civil War—the president of the United States could not leave.
Voting rules denied the leader of the nation his right to vote. Voting rules should not similarly disenfranchise Americans during the COVID-19 emergency.
Along with Illinois, the states of Indiana, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon limited the right to vote in the election of 1864 only to those who physically went to the polls. This meant that many of the soldiers fighting to preserve the union were disenfranchised just like their commander in chief. Seventeen states, however, changed their voting rules to permit one form or another of the “soldier vote” from the field.
Now is the time to consider if and how we change our rules so that COVID-19 does not disenfranchise Americans. Two facts are undeniable: we are in the midst of a national crisis of indeterminate length, and to cast their vote. Now is the time to start preparing for COVID-19’s impact on the November 3, 2020 election.
In the current emergency, there is a national policy against large gatherings. If you do go out, six feet of social distancing is recommended. Queuing in long lines at polling stations in order to enter a small enclosure just vacated by someone of unknown health is not in keeping with prevailing medical advice. Read more.
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.