On a day when four states were scheduled to hold their presidential primary elections, the coronavirus outbreak has threatened a key pillar of our democracy: the right to safely cast a ballot.
While Ohio has postponed in-person voting slated for today, three other states—Arizona, Florida, and Illinois—are proceeding, raising concerns among voting rights advocates that not everyone who wants to vote will feel safe, or be able, to do so. But, as Mother Jones’ voting rights reporter Ari Berman explains, there are a number of ways officials could make it easier for people to vote amid a public health and economic crisis.
We're in the middle of an election year, and the coronavirus outbreak has threatened our right to safely cast a ballot.
— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) March 17, 2020
“The safest way to vote by now is from your home, and the way to do that is to vote by mail,” Berman says. Some states make voting by mail harder than others, he explains, by requiring an excuse to request an absentee ballot. “You would hope that fear of dying from a global pandemic would be enough of a reason to request an absentee ballot. But I think every single state if they can’t move to universal mail voting can at least say ‘We’re going to make it so that you don’t need any sort of an excuse to get an absentee ballot, and that we’re going to encourage people to vote by mail as much as possible.'”
Meanwhile, the Brennan Center for Justice has issued a new report recommending a five-pronged approach to protecting the vote from the coronavirus: ensuring social distancing and sanitation at polling places, allowing early in-person voting to reduce crowds, extending a vote-by-mail option to all voters, boosting voter registration efforts, and increasing public education about these efforts. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has encouraged Congress to enact similar measures.
The states voting today have taken some preventative measures. Arizona will allow curbside voting at many locations, and all three states voting today permit early voting and no-excuse absentee voting.