Voting in a time of national emergency

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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.

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