“If You Can Grocery Shop in Person, You Can Vote in Person”

And here’s the subtitle from this must-read piece in The Atlantic from Russell Berman: “Experts now say the health risk of casting an in-person ballot is relatively low. Will Democrats tell their voters that?”

I’m thrilled to see this piece. As readers here know, I have been arguing for months, along with others, that voters should be encouraged to vote in person, unless they have exceptional health-risks (such as the elderly). This is especially important in MI and PA, where the law currently prohibits election officials from processing absentees before Election Day. In-person voting includes early voting.

I intend to raise this issue as often and in as many forums as I can between now and Election Day. I consider it one of the most important voting issues to address, given where we now are in the election process. I hope Berman’s piece gets wide circulation. An excerpt:

Yet with the start of in-person early voting just weeks away in some states, [Zeke] Emanuel is back with an update. Public-health officials have learned a lot about the transmission of COVID-19 since the spring, Emanuel told me, and the message around voting must change. “There’s a legitimate concern, but I do think we can make it much safer by following the precautions,” he said. “You don’t want people to be disenfranchised by the pandemic, and you should encourage people that it’s safe. It’s like shopping.”

In-person voting is no more risky than going to the grocery store, Emanuel argues, as long as certain safeguards are in place, the same measures many Americans have become accustomed to since the spring: Wear a mask and line up at least six feet apart. Voting locations should have plexiglass barriers separating poll workers from voters, as well as disinfectant to wipe down commonly used surfaces and objects. (In the risk-assessment chart—which Emanuel created with James P. Phillips, the chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University, and Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona—voting would also go in the same low-medium risk category as playing golf or tennis.)

Emanuel told me he hopes to correct perceptions about voting that, for many people, haven’t changed since early this spring. In April, state courts forced Wisconsin to go forward with an in-person election, siding with the GOP over the objections of the Democratic governor. Dozens of COVID-19 cases were linked to that election, and the Wisconsin experience helped galvanize a nationwide movement toward expanded voting by mail that Trump has ferociously opposed and denigrated. At the time, the state’s Democratic Party chairman, Ben Wikler, told me that the GOP’s insistence on in-person voting was a “moral atrocity.”

But the Wisconsin election happened just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised the public to wear a face covering, and at a time when protective equipment and sanitizer for poll workers was still in short supply. In the months since, millions of Americans have voted in person in primary elections across the country, and no major outbreaks have been linked to the polls, Emanuel told me.


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