The rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic has forced election officials to consider a sobering reality: The crisis could run headlong into November’s presidential election, and revamping America’s voting systems before then could be difficult and in some cases impossible.
Even as they postpone upcoming primaries, state and local officials are racing to find longer-term solutions to ensure that the public can safely vote on Nov. 3. While there is growing consensus that voting by mail is the safest way to cast ballots during a pandemic, implementing that system across the country is a huge undertaking that may not be possible, particularly in states where it is limited by law.
In the past week, elections officials have been swapping advice on what it would take: enormous orders of printed ballots and envelopes, high-speed scanners capable of counting the returns and in some cases constitutional amendments to lift restrictions on who may vote by mail — and hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for it all….
“We have time to prepare, now, to ensure that these elections can take place, fairly, under any circumstances, and even if public health concerns prevent people from going to the polling booths to vote,” wrote more than 300 academics in an open letter to Congress. “In the entire history of the United States, there has never been a missed election.”
The group is urging Congress to establish national standards for preparing and modifying polling places, expanding early and mail-in voting, expanding online voter registration and educating voters.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced a new version of a bill this week that would require mail-in balloting and early in-person voting to be offered in every state, and would provide hundreds of millions in assistance for states to implement the changes.
“This country has a great tradition of being able to move really quick when our values are on the line, and I don’t know what’s more valuable than the right to vote,” Wyden, whose state pioneered mail voting in 1998, said in an interview this week.
So far, however, Republicans have not indicated support for the bill.