Politics aside, many states will face daunting financial, logistical and personnel challenges to making mail balloting the norm.
New York Times: When Colorado’s 3.5 million voters help select a president this fall, their choice will be made almost entirely by mail, via ballots in postage-paid envelopes dropped off in mailboxes or, more commonly, in bins scattered statewide.
Not so in Alabama. As the law now stands, all voters must cast their ballots on Election Day, at their designated polling places, unless they vote absentee. And getting an absentee ballot is so hard that fewer than 55,000 of 1.7 million voters cast one in the last election.
Election experts, voting rights advocates and a chorus of Democrats are urging states to switch as much as is possible to voting by mail for the November election. Their aim is to ensure that the vote is not plagued by the same nightmare scenario that occurred this week in Wisconsin of voters in masks and gloves going to polls — or staying home — amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Republican governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, endorsed the idea on Thursday, saying the state would hold its election by mail in November if health risks were still an issue. The Republican secretary of state in Iowa, Paul Pate, raised the same prospect this week. Elsewhere, Republican opposition, like court filings and President Trump’s baseless charge that voting by mail is riddled with fraud, leaves the future of that effort in doubt.
But even if those hurdles were cleared, many, if not most, states would face daunting financial, logistical and personnel challenges to making mail balloting the norm — and a deadline that would turn it into a breathless sprint.
“Switching to voting by mail, even in states with no history of it, can absolutely be done, and quite likely it may need to be done,” said Judd Choate, the state elections director in Colorado, which made the change six years ago. “It’s just a matter of how bumpy it is.” Read more.
electionline.org: According to the U.S. Census, in 2018, just 6.2 percent of the voters who cast a ballot in the Northeast part of the country did so by mail/via absentee. In the South, it was 9.7 percent. Overall, just 23.1 percent of the 2018 ballots were cast by mail/absentee.
Now with the nation in the grips of a global pandemic and the November 3 general election less than seven months away, many states are figuring out how to expand the ability to vote absentee/by mail.
For states like Arizona, where the majority of residents are on the state’s Permanent Early Voting List, which means they get a ballot in the mail, the lift to go to an all/mostly mail election for November, if they choose to, would be relatively “simple”. For places like the District of Columbia where only about 8 percent of the 2016 general election ballots were cast by absentee, the move to greatly expand voting by mail will be a big lift, but not impossible.
This week the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) and Sector Coordinating Council’s (SCC) Joint COVID Working Group have put out six FAQ/ consideration documents on how to increase absentee or vote by mail in time for November. The purpose of the COVID working group is to support state and local officials and their private sector partners run elections during this pandemic by looking at everything from expanded mail voting to in-person voting in a social distancing environment.
“These are unprecedented times for everyone, especially election officials. These documents provide state and local election offices with answers to some of the questions they might have as well as some they might not have thought of yet but need to be aware of,” said Lori Augino, director of elections for the State of Washington and president of the National Association of State Election Directors. “I’m proud of how our community is working together to help Americans cast their ballots this year.”
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, as an executive committee member agreed to chair the working group. The group started with calls focusing on general responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, but much of the requests for information centered on how to expand absentee/ voting by mail along a realistic spectrum in each state.
In order to not get bogged down in issues pertaining to each jurisdiction the group considered how to create a slightly different governing approach that could address the risks and concerns that the election community as a whole will need to consider. The working group further divided into smaller groups — or what they liked to call “swim lanes” — that focused on a specific area.
“With election officials around the country reexamining their 2020 election plans to account for the impact of COVID-19, I am confident this series of documents can help with the tough decisions they face,” said EAC Chairman Ben Hovland. “This group effort represents input from all aspects of the elections community including state and local election officials, federal partners, and industry professionals. The ability to pull people together and create these documents so quickly would not have been possible without the critical infrastructure governance being in place for elections.”
The goal was to expedite the collection of existing best practices and assist in the efficient development of tools and resources. Each subgroup was assigned a lead and worked through which elections officials and organizations would be contacted about each topic so they didn’t overwhelm the same people, people who are also be contacted by individual elections officials and the media. Read more.
Axios: Mail-in ballots are becoming states’ saving grace for their 2020 primary contests as the coronavirus crisis deepens in the U.S.
Why it matters: Amid CDC guidance that gatherings shouldn’t exceed 50 people, the states voting today — Arizona, Florida and Illinois — all have multiple confirmed cases of the illness and are pushing citizens to consider their mail-in options.
- Ohio was also set to vote on Tuesday, but has declared a public health emergency, postponing its primaries because of concerns about coronavirus.
- Its state Democratic Party chairman David Pepper released a statement that included another alternative: conduct the primary entirely by vote-by-mail.
- In a Monday press release email sent out from Joe Biden’s campaign about an Ohio tele-town hall, it concluded: “If you’re a member of an at-risk population or have been exposed to a diagnosed case of coronavirus, we encourage you to explore absentee ballots and vote by mail options, including emergency voting exceptions in your state.”
The big picture: Coronavirus has presented a new analog twist to the election — a race that was expected to be so technologically advanced, Iowa once considered adopting digital caucuses.
- Its lasting effects could mean polling places and voting lines are on the chopping block for future U.S. contests.
Axios: With in-person elections on Nov. 3 the hope but no longer a certainty, states are racing to chip away age-old barriers to alternatives in time for the general election.
Why it matters: State laws and political calculations remain formidable obstacles to expanding voting options. And the price tag for changes could top $2 billion.
“The more people who vote early or vote by mail means fewer people standing in line on election day,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told Axios. Read more.
The Appeal: As many states postpone primaries due to the coronavirus outbreak, Oregon still plans to hold its May elections. “Because Oregon votes by mail, we do not have to be concerned about social distancing issues at polling places that so many other states are struggling with,” Secretary of State Bev Clarno said last week. “Many states are looking to implement our vote by mail system as a safer way to conduct elections in November.”
Oregon adopted a vote-by-mail system in 1998, and four other states have followed since (Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, and Washington). In these states, all registered voters receive a ballot; they then mail it back or drop it off at a designated location.
Calls to expand vote-by-mail nationwide are now ubiquitous in the face of social distancing.
California is moving in that direction. Officials in Arizona and New Mexicowant authorization to send ballots to all voters. Advocates and scholarsmade the case for universal mail voting weeks ago. And some federal bills would help states get there.
In many states, though, implementing vote-by-mail would require a lot of work. It is a shift that raises challenges ranging from logistics and capacity to concerns about voter access and safeguards against suppression.
To unpack these challenges, I talked to Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund who in 2016 co-authored “The New Realities of Mail Voting” with the Bipartisan Policy Center. A former elections administrator in Arizona, Patrick was appointed to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration by President Barack Obama. Read more.
The Brennan Center’s plan to ensure that the 2020 election is free, fair, accessible, and secure
Brennan Center: The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) presents a difficult and novel challenge to the administration of the 2020 general election. Recent election emergencies have largely been caused by catastrophic weather events, and our country has done little election planning for pandemics. Unlike a hurricane, a pandemic does not have a discrete and relatively predictable end point. And avoiding large-scale social contact is a central feature of combating the crisis. These elements create distinct challenges for election officials on top of the significant and ongoing threats to the security of our election infrastructure.
Given the scope of the challenge, large-scale preparation, backed by the concerted support of the government and the public, is needed immediately to ensure that the 2020 election is free, fair, accessible, and secure. We will need substantial modifications to our election procedures, substantial flexibility, and a substantial infusion of resources to ensure that every eligible American can register and vote safely, securely, accessibly, and as conveniently as possible; to ensure that every ballot cast by an eligible voter counts; to maintain the security of the election; and to ensure the safety of election workers. Below we outline the critical changes needed to ensure the election works.
The key recommendations fall into five categories: (1) polling place modification and preparation; (2) expanded early voting; (3) a universal vote-by-mail option; (4) voter registration modification and preparation, including expanded online registration; and (5) voter education and manipulation prevention. We recommend that each state government establish an election pandemic task force to determine how best to implement relevant policy recommendations in their state. State and local officials must understand the laws and emergency rules applicable to their jurisdictions and consider appropriate adjustments to ensure that election officials have the authority needed to accomplish these modifications. For its part, Congress should immediately appropriate funds to ensure that election officials have the resources needed to make the needed adjustments to their voting systems. Congress should also establish baseline national rules to ensure that every eligible American can vote safely, securely, and accessibly in the midst of the pandemic. In the absence of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, care must be taken to ensure that changes are nondiscriminatory and do not negatively impact access for communities of color. Read more.
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.