Sue Halpern in New Yorker: “Voting in the Time of the Coronavirus”

New Yorker:

Lately, I’ve been hearing people point out that a Presidential election was held in the midst of the Civil War, which illustrates either the commitment of American voters or the unyielding calendar of our democracy. A pandemic, with its invisible enemy, presents a more miasmic challenge to voting, though. Microbes are indiscriminate: anyone and everyone is susceptible. But, while it is true that public polling places present a threat to public health, it is equally true that not voting is a threat to the health of the Republic. Could Donald Trump, who in the past has “joked” about staying in office past his term, use covid-19 to subvert the electoral process? A recent piece in Slate lays out a frightening scenario where Trump could, in essence, hijack the Electoral College. Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “Election Meltdown,” told me that, in such a scenario, “there would be rioting in the streets.”

The next general election is on November 3rd. Insuring free, fair, and safe elections will require providing everyone the ability to vote without having to step into the public sphere. Hasen’s solution is to give voters the option—though not the obligation—to vote by mail. This is also the goal of new legislation proposed by Senators Ron Wyden, of Oregon, and Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota. Wyden told me, “Every jurisdiction already allows absentee voting for members of the military or people who can’t make it to the polls, so we’re not starting from scratch.” Five states have universal vote-by-mail, and thirty allow voters to request an absentee ballot without having to provide an excuse. Even so, scaling up in time for the November election—Wyden believes we have no more than six months to get there—will present challenges. An earlier bill introduced by Wyden, the Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020, proposes five hundred million dollars in grants to help all fifty states institute mail-in voting. The Brennan Center for Justice, at New York University, estimates the real cost would range from $951 million to $1.4 billion. (The Klobuchar-Wyden bill does not suggest a specific allocation, but Klobuchar told me that Congress should make sure that this transition does not burden the states.)


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