Pandemic-Proofing Our Elections
As news stories out of states like Illinois, Florida, and Wisconsin showed, we need to be taking proactive steps to make sure that we can have high-turnout elections in September and November while protecting public health. In other words, we need to "pandemic-proof" our elections.
The Massachusetts Legislature took important initial steps for municipal and special legislative elections: expanding early voting, shortening the voter registration blackout period, and making it easier for voters to cast their ballots absentee.
We need to build on that for the fall.
What does that mean?
“Pandemic-proofing” our elections will require several essential steps:
Expanding options to vote by mail for both primary and general:
To allow voters to follow social distancing guidelines, we should
minimize the number of voters who need to physically show up in person
on Election Day to vote. Allowing more voters to request absentee
ballots by counting COVID-19-related health risks as an accepted excuse
for needing an absentee ballot, as the Legislature did for spring and
special elections, is good first step, but we must go further and have
the Commonwealth mail every eligible voter a ballot (with postage
pre-paid) to reduce paperwork and increase democratic engagement.
Moreover, it is essential that such ballots must also be made available
in every language for which in-person ballots are available to avoid
Increasing the number of days of early voting for both primary and general:
Early voting premiered in Massachusetts in 2016, and it has been a
resounding success. Increasing the number of days of early voting would
enable voters and election workers to better follow social distancing
guidelines by spreading out the number of in-person voters across
Eliminating the voter registration deadline:
Massachusetts’s 20-day voter registration cutoff is arbitrary and
discriminatory, leaving out thousands of voters each election cycle.
That impact will be exacerbated this year, as voter registration drives
over the summer will be unable to occur and as voters seeking hard-copy
voter registration forms will be unable to access them as libraries and
civic centers remain closed. Our neighbors in Maine, New Hampshire,
Vermont, and Connecticut have all eliminated voter registration
deadlines (in some cases, decades ago), and implementation has been
smooth and successful.
Protecting in-person voting:
When polling sites are closed, the impact disproportionately falls on
disadvantaged communities, compounding existing inequalities. Similarly,
voters with unstable addresses, voters with physical disabilities, and
non-English-speaking voters may have difficulty with voting by mail.
Their rights should not be taken away.
Protecting poll workers: Stories from other states about polling sites without poll workers should be taken as a warning sign of what could happen if we do not take proactive steps to staff the polls and provide the necessary protective equipment for poll workers. Our democracy depends on poll workers; they should not have to put their lives at risk.