In normal times, I think of absentee voting as an essential option, but I’ve not (yet?) bought into 100% vote-by-mail. The postal service is an astonishingly great institution, but there are some communities it serves less well than others, including large-scale-apartment dwellers and rural Native reservations; it can lead to limitations for those who want both privacy and language or disability assistance; and it can increase opportunities for coercion. That’s not a critique of the absentee process — just a recognition of its limitations.
These are not normal times. And in the age of a global pandemic transmitted through crowds and disproportionately impacting elderly pollworkers, it is 100% right to be moving — with legal authorization quickly, to give as much time to prepare as possible — to radically expand opportunities for voters to receive and cast ballots by mail.
But as we do, it’s worth remembering that voting by mail puts more pressure on voter registration.
When voting at the polls, it’s often possible to fix small registration problems, or local moves to a new address. (Indeed, the NVRA guarantees a right to the latter.) And in same-day registration states, someone who is unregistered can use a trip to the polls to get registered, too.
But voting by mail makes it really important to get registration names and current addresses right, up front. Otherwise, it’s hard to get your mail ballot in the first place.
None of this is news to people who work full-time on Vote by Mail issues, like the world-class team at Vote at Home. But for others scrambling to expand vote by mail options in an emergency: voter registration needs to come along as well, with substantial spending on extra publicity encouraging voters to check and update their registration before the ballots go out.
In other words: