The rise of the Covid-19 pandemic has added new urgency to the movement to create and maintain election infrastructures that support our republic and keeps voters safe. All of us are doing our part to keep our communities safe: staying home, maintaining a six foot distance from others, washing our hands, and avoiding touching our faces. At the same time, our primary elections have been forced into chaos. States are approaching 2020 primary elections inconsistently, by maintaining in-person voting or through hastily-drafted vote-by-mail options. Some states delayed primary elections while others moved forward as planned.
At the same time, the Democratic presidential field was winnowing; as a result, a large number of early, mailed-in ballots had votes for candidates who had suspended their campaigns by the time such ballots were counted. Amid these issues, voters and political leaders have speculated on the future of our elections. Will they be held in person this November, against medical advice? How will they be carried out? Will those steps suppress the voting ability of any Americans, and thus, delegitimize this November’s presidential election?
The United States needs measures that will make our democracy more resilient in 2020 and beyond. We must rise to the challenges we face under Covid-19, but also future outbreaks, natural disasters, acts of terror, and other attacks against our safety and security.
During the Covid-19 crisis, states have needed to change laws regarding voting and elections in order to help contain the virus while still ensuring the right to vote as well as some campaigns have had to suspend or alter their efforts.
The National Conference of State Legislators has also established a website for tracking legislative and executive action on elections responsive to the pandemic.
On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This law provides $400 million to states to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, for the 2020 Federal election cycle.” Each state is eligible to receive $2 million plus an amount proportional to its voting age population.
During a time of crisis, it may not be practical to staff polling places and ask voters to leave their homes and vote at central locations. To ensure that all voters will still have an opportunity to cast a ballot, states can provide an option to vote by mail, also called “no fault absentee voting” to any voter that requests it. States can also provide for ample opportunities to vote early in person in order to ease the pressure on Election Day polling locations.
Fair Elections During a Crisis: Urgent Recommendations in Law, Media, Politics, and Tech to Advance the Legitimacy of, and the Public’s Confidence in, the November 2020 U.S. Elections, Ad Hoc Committee for 2020 Election Fairness and Legitimacy Issues
Easing petition deadlines and requirements:
Candidates, political parties and ballot measure committees often secure access to the ballot by gathering petition signatures. When in person petitioning becomes unsafe or impractical, the result may be fewer choices on the ballot, undermining the right to an effective vote. States should alter petition deadlines and requirements under these circumstances.
During the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating contests, four states have moved to allowing vote by mail with ranked choice voting for the first time. They’ve also largely been able to keep their elections on schedule. Here are the timeframes for those elections:
In places that have runoff elections where voters would have to typically vote more than once, RCV acts as an instant runoff where a voter is able to rank backup choices. We endorse this option for states seeking to consolidate their elections in this unprecedented crisis.