April 9, 2020

We Need Vote by Mail to Protect Our Democracy

Tell your state election officials to support vote by mail!

We are just seven months away from the most important election of our lives. Seven months away from the country deciding the moral fate of our country. But, given the public health crisis the world is grappling with, one question looms in every voter’s mind: will it be safe to vote in person this year?

The coronavirus pandemic has changed many societal norms, and voting is no exception. With state and federal agencies either recommending or mandating stay at home policies, people are having to choose between staying safe and exercising their right to vote. We’ve already begun to see the effects of this calculus play out in the primaries.

Take Wisconsin, for example, which this week became the first state to hold a major election with in-person voting since many of the stay at home orders went into effect. In a partisan move, Republicans successfully blocked Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ attempt to delay primary day. The result? A drop in the number of poll workers, a decrease in the number of polling locations, and long lines that increased the likelihood of voters being exposed to the coronavirus. In addition to problems with in-person voting, many voters that requested an absentee ballot either didn’t receive one or had trouble finding a legal witness to sign their return envelope. We have yet to see the total turnout numbers, but all signs are pointing to lower turnout due to the impact of coronavirus.

Coronavirus is the new form of voter suppression. In addition to lower general turnout, turnout is likely to be lower for communities of color. Coronavirus is affecting and killing the black community at much higher rates than other communities.

In Milwaukee County, for example, African Americans make up 26% of the total population, yet account for 73% of all deaths in the county. This significantly impacts the personal risk assessment an African-American voter makes as they decide whether or not to compromise their safety by standing in a two hour line to vote.

Coronavirus is a threat to our democracy. And we need to act now if we’re going to make sure it doesn’t continue to suppress votes in November. But there’s an easy solution: vote by mail. Take Washington state, for example, which was hard hit by the virus early on. Washington conducts their elections through vote by mail. This means that every voter gets their ballot in the mail at least 18 days before election day without having to request for it to be mailed. So if you’re a voter in Washington, you don’t have to worry about the risk of contracting coronavirus if you want to vote. You just have to make a plan to safely walk to your mailbox. This should be the case everywhere.

It is still unclear how long the coronavirus pandemic will continue. So rather than merely pushing back primary days and hoping that the pandemic will pass in time, states should be proactively thinking about how they can implement state-wide vote by mail initiatives. And, unsurprisingly, Sen. Warren has a plan for that, calling on Congress to require all states to mail ballots with pre-paid return postage to every registered voter and waive all absentee ballot requirements. But this won’t be easy. Donald Trump recently called on Republicans to “fight very hard” against vote by mail. This further emboldens the same elected officials, both on the state and federal level, who for years have been advocating for voter suppression. In order to combat these voices and ensure an intact democracy in November, we need the public to demand that states implement vote by mail policies. That’s why NIAC Action is supporting calls for vote by mail ballots; you can add your voice here.

Regardless of how states get there, we need vote by mail implemented in time for the November general election if we’re going to ensure that every voter gets an equal opportunity to vote. Because this year, our ability to exercise our democratic right to vote will determine whether or not we get four more years of a Trump presidency.

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