How will the coronavirus affect elections?
The coronavirus pandemic and measures to contain it have upended life in the United States since March.
The coronavirus also poses unique and daunting challenges to holding elections.
Elections often require large groups of people to come in close proximity to each other in an enclosed space. This increases the risk of spreading the virus.
Elections also require hundreds if not thousands of people to touch shared surfaces like tables, electronic voting machines, and pens. This also increases the risk of spreading the virus.
Additionally, most poll workers in America are at least 61 years old, placing them at greater risk of severe illness and death if they contract coronavirus.
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Most poll workers in the United States are over 61 years old. Given the threat the coronavirus poses to the elderly, many are opting to sit out serving as poll workers in 2020. This could result in a severe shortage of poll workers, forcing states, cities, and towns to reduce the number of polling places on election day. Fewer polling places will mean longer lines for those who have to or choose to vote in-person.
Additionally, many traditional polling places like schools, churches, and nursing homes are refusing to serve as polling places out of fear of catching and spreading the virus. This could result in even fewer polling places available on election day. It could also mean that available polling places are relocated to new buildings, possibly confusing voters as to where to go to cast their ballots.
These challenges severely disrupted elections this spring and summer.
In April, voters in Wisconsin had to wait in line for hours in order to cast their vote and many who requested a mail-in/absentee ballot never received one.
These same issues materialized during the Georgia primary in early June, with some voters waiting in line as long as 7 hours to vote.
The experiences in Wisconsin and Georgia provide an important lesson in the challenges of preparing for an election in the midst of a pandemic.
They also serve as a dire warning for what could happen during the general election in November if states do not start preparing now.
States which do not take appropriate measures now to prepare for the possibility that the coronavirus will make in-person voting incredibly difficult if not impossible in November will find themselves facing a number of challenges.
Most concerningly, if they do not prepare for a massive increase in mail-in/absentee voting in November by ordering enough envelopes and ballots, secure drop-off boxes, and high-speed ballot scanners, then many Americans may have to choose between their right to vote and their health.
In order to protect our elections, it is imperative that we protect ourselves and prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Here are the current CDC Guidelines for keeping yourself and others safe from COVID-19.
Check out the National Conference of State Legislature’s brief on how COVID-19 has challenged our elections this year and the various ways states and the federal government have responded so far to meet these challenges.
Read reports on Wisconsin’s disastrous April primary from the New York Times and Center for American Progress. Also be sure to check out reports on Georgia’s messy June primary from the Washington Post and FiveThirtyEight.
Read this article from the Guardian explaining why the U.S. Postal Service is in such dire straits right now and why its situation is a threat to the November elections.
Check out the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project, a clearinghouse for information and best practices developed to ensure that the 2020 election is administered safely and equitably for everyone.