WSJ Saturday Essay:
On Tuesday, citizens in Georgia stood in lines for hours to vote—and some just gave up. The state struggled to handle its primary election, hobbled amid the coronavirus pandemic by a shortage of poll workers and polling places. The Atlanta Journal Constitution called it “an ordeal for voters.” And with Georgia potentially in play between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, more than twice as many voters are expected in November, the paper noted.
All of this suggests that the 2020 election could become a full-on crisis for American democracy. If the type of chaos that racked Georgia this week and Wisconsin’s primary last month recurs nationwide in November, Americans will rightfully question whether we had a free and fair election. American democracy was already beset by partisan polarization and distrust, and our body politic was unprepared for the new election threat that the pandemic poses. Now the largest wave of civic unrest since the late 1960s, spurred by outrage over police brutality and racism, has made the stakes even higher.
We aren’t ready. The problems in Georgia are just the latest indication of how widespread the dysfunction is. Jurisdictions across the country are scrambling to prepare for a massive shift to mail balloting and to ensure that they can provide reasonably safe polling places. Hundreds of voting sites are being taken out of commission, either because they cannot accommodate adequate social distancing or because the civic-minded senior citizens who usually staff them aren’t willing to risk their lives to do so.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We need to prepare for this election as we would for a natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane—and unlike a natural disaster, we have five months of warning.