Media Supermajority

Why We Need Electoral Reform Amid COVID-19

Images of voters in Wisconsin patiently waiting in long lines to vote on April 9 at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic will be one of the most emblematic images of America in 2020. As the country gets ready for November’s presidential election, many voters in other states are wondering what can be done to make voting as safe as possible.

I think Wisconsin was really a warning sign for what could potentially occur throughout the country in November,” Bobby Hoffman, the Voting Rights Advocacy & Policy Counsel at the ACLU, told Supermajority News. “But there are actions that can be taken to ensure folks aren’t waiting in long lines and risking their health in order to vote to cast a ballot.”

Supermajority News talked to Hoffman about what policies should be put into place to guarantee the health and safety of both voters and poll workers in November.

Expanding early voting nationwide: One of the most effective ways to reduce the chances of long lines on Election Day is to expand early voting options across the country, said Hoffman.  Forty states and the District of Columbia already have early voting, but the ACLU and other groups are currently calling for at least 14 days of early voting in every state. “We see early voting as a common sense solution in order to reduce crowding,” he said.

Making vote by mail more accessible: Vote by mail policies vary state by state. Sixteen states currently require voters to provide a valid excuse before voting absentee; Hoffman says that those states must either implement no-excuse absentee voting or add COVID-19 on to the list of permitted excuses in order for voters to get ballots. Three states (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) already had all-mail voting, and a number of others have instituted vote-by-mail this year in light of the pandemic.

We should be “encouraging the vote by mail process. That way, many more people are casting a ballot before Election Day,” said Hoffman. He notes that a recent municipal election in Michigan saw an unprecedented 99 percent of voters vote by mail. “If 99 percent of folks cast absentee ballots, then obviously the likelihood of lines at the polling locations is going to decrease.”

Making sure absentee ballots are counted: Several studies have shown that mail-in ballots are less likely to be counted. “When there is a signature mismatch, we found that younger voters and voters of color were much more likely to be rejected,” said Hoffman. This is a sign that more protections are needed to guarantee that all votes are counted. The ACLU has been advocating for Boards of Election across the country to create procedures for reaching out to voters whose ballots may be incomplete so that the situation can be rectified.

Getting poll workers more support: Polling places across the country have been understaffed long before the current pandemic. With an average age of 61, poll workers also tend to be older than the population at large. In addition to recruiting a more diverse pool of workers, states should also be given the funds they need to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to all poll workers. They should be able to “purchase extra equipment and bring in additional staff in order to ensure that the election is administered smoothly,” said Hoffman.

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