The coronavirus has already caused five states to cancel their primaries as well as severely diminished turnout in one that didn’t—Illinois. With guesses as to when this pandemic will fade ranging from ten minutes from now to September to eighteen months, the solution seems pretty simple, right?
Putting something in the mailbox doesn’t take a whole lot of skill. If you’ve mailed a birthday card, you can do it! But sixteen states still won’t let you mail it in unless you can prove there’s a narrowly-defined reason for an absentee ballot.
Hey, how’s this for an excuse? I don’t want to die!
The show must go on
Yes, states are free to postpone primary voting, however—despite all the rumors and tweets you’ve read—thanks to the Constitution, delaying the general election isn’t an option. As Richard L. Hasen, an election law scholar at UC Irvine says:
“We cannot postpone the election because there are places under lockdown. We need to have a Plan B ready.”
A president can’t serve beyond four years without reelection. (If you want to call what Trump is doing “serving.”)
A new generation of poll workers
Most poll workers are over 60, and thus at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many of them, as in Florida’s primary, failed to even show up. That’s why, in addition to making vote-by-mail universal, it would also make sense to recruit and train a younger group of poll workers to take the burden off the vulnerable.
But the elderly poll workers aren’t the only ones that will be at risk. It could also be unsafe for senior voters. “They need to have this option,” Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, told the L.A. Times.
Precautions could lead to long delays
If the corona crisis continues, policing and micromanagement will need to be instituted on election day. But enforcing social distancing while waiting on line, potentially taking the temperature of each voter entering a polling site, and sanitizing machines after each voter would likely instill panic.
“I understand that standing up a new election system will be a heavy lift,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) explained, “but in the face of this pandemic, vote by mail is the best choice we have to keep our democracy running.”
Are you listening, Tuscaloosa?
Voters already receive registration cards and election guides by mail. How about tossing in ballots, too? C’mon, we’re already two-thirds of the way there.
Nonetheless, states like Alabama have repeatedly rejected proposals for a universal vote by mail. It could be because it’s hard to suppress the vote when everyone has an equal opportunity to turn in a ballot. If they ever did enact it, authorities might try to move all the mailboxes out of black neighborhoods…
What you can do
Click here and find out about absentee ballots in your state!