Vote by Mail
Vote-by-mail allows voters to cast their ballot at a location other than a polling place. Around ⅔ of the states allow absentee voting without an excuse and ⅓ require an official excuse. Due to COVID-19, many states have eased up on absentee voting requirements in an attempt to maintain/increase voter turnout. For instance, Delaware, New York, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, South Carolina, West Virginia are either allowing voters to list COVID-19/global pandemic as an excuse to vote absentee or eliminating the requirement for an excuse in the 2020 election.
States have also increased funding to make sure the 2020 election goes smoothly. Some states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Dakota, and New Mexico, are sending vote-by-mail applications to all registered voters in their states. Montana, Nevada, and South Dakota sent applications to all registered voters for their primaries.
Check here for updates on what your state is doing in regards to the 2020 election.
Online Voter Registration
Currently, 39 states offer online voter registration, which allows voters to register to vote using an online platform. Every state has different requirements, such as requiring a valid driver’s license. Voter registration has plummeted due to COVID-19, even with the access to online registration—mainly due to the shutdown of several DMV offices and registration drives. According to the Washington Post, voter registration among college students may also drop because college campuses facilitate the administrative process of registration.
It is important to keep pushing for emergency online voter registration portals. If states require a state-issued ID to register, you can also advocate for one’s social security number to be sufficient for registration. This ensures that everyone has access to and secures their right to vote, especially during COVID-19.
Check here if your state offers online voter registration and what the requirements are.
Extended Early Voting Periods
Given the reality that not everyone can or will vote by mail, election officials must prepare to make polling stations as safe as possible. One way this can be achieved is by extending Early Voting periods. Early Voting, a practice currently allowed to some extent in 39 states and DC, allows voters to submit their ballots at designated polling places before election day. Early Voting periods currently begin anywhere from 45 days to the weekend before the election. By extending the period in which people can vote early and encouraging citizens to utilize this option, states can decrease the quantity of people voting on election day. Additionally, this creates shorter lines at the polls, minimizing the time voters need to spend at the polling location. By de-densifying polling places, Early Voting can make elections safer during a pandemic.
In addition to simply increasing the number of days citizens can vote early, states can also extend the hours which Early Voting stations are open and guarantee that at least one Saturday is available for Early Voting. Other efforts too, like ensuring Early Voting locations are accessible to all people, will increase the probability that voters can take advantage of this system. Learn more here.
Logistic and Administrative Considerations
Despite the heavy push towards vote-by-mail, on-site voting locations are still necessary to ensure all voters have the opportunity to exercise their right. For a variety of reasons, many voters cannot or will not vote by mail, so it is important to ensure that safe in-person voting options exist. The CDC has already released a set of instructions on improving safety at polling places—which includes suggestions on cleaning voting booths, providing hand sanitizer, and spacing out voting stations—and multiple states have already announced plans to implement more intense cleaning procedures and PPE requirements. Some states and localities have also suggested using drive-thru voting to minimize interactions while voting.
Another logistical consideration that must be taken into account regards poll workers. According to Pew Research, a majority of voters are 60 or older, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 and many poll workers have already informed states of their intention to not volunteer. In response to this, states have ramped up early recruitment efforts, targeting students and young adults, and some have adjusted the traditional number of poll workers needed at a polling location. Similarly to poll workers, some polling locations, particularly in senior facilities, have announced that they will not be able to house elections this year.
When scouring for alternative ways to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, an effort which intends to de-densify voting stations, some states have turned to online voting as an option. Many experts, however, question the security of such systems. The need to protect anonymity in the voting process makes online voting a complex system that is potentially vulnerable to hackers. Proponents argue, however, that online voting can be used safely in a limited capacity, especially as technology advances and improves over time. See more here.