In the midst of a global public health crisis, the outcome of the November U.S. election is uncertain and steeped in partisan politics. Republicans argue that Democrats’ efforts to enact vote-by-mail are undermining and remaking democracy while Democrats argue such efforts are, in fact, to protect democracy and voter’s rights.
Across the country, people are expressing concern about voting in the fall. As “open-up” demonstrations energize and mobilize the conservative base ahead of the election, California voters are worried that stay-at-home orders might get in the way of get out the vote efforts, but are also worried about shelter-in-place orders ending too soon. In California, which has a special election tomorrow for Katie Hill’s vulnerable former House seat, voters are preoccupied with illness, death, unemployment, childcare, and stress; tomorrow’s special election is not a high priority on many lists.
As concern for voting rights mounts, lawsuits ensue across the country. Voting rights groups are fighting a law in Oklahoma requiring absentee ballots to be notarized, and in Florida where felons are being forced to pay all fees and fines before having their voting rights restored. Democrats want same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and no photo ID laws and are suing to make it happen. Republicans, claiming worry about the extremely rare phenomenon of voter fraud, are suing in Virginia to stop it from removing its absentee ballot witness requirement and in Arizona to forbid third-party absentee ballot collection. Court decisions affecting voting rules could greatly shape the outcome of the November election.
While stay-at-home orders and concern for health and safety persist, vote-by-mail is growing in demand. In Georgia, 1.2 million voters have requested absentee ballots for their June primary. In 2016, Georgians requested 36,200 absentee ballots. A Pew Research Center poll finds that 3 of 4 Americans support universal access to voting by mail and that 2 of 3 think the election will be “significantly disrupted” by the pandemic. Confidence in the legitimacy of the election is projected to be another issue exacerbated by the virus. In Pennsylvania, Democrats are working to convince skeptical voters that vote-by-mail is safe while President Trump continues to actively attack the Postal Service and just last week installed one of his top financial supporters as postmaster general.
In Wisconsin’s April primary, voters were forced to stand in long lines, risking their health in order to vote in person. What happened in Wisconsin is likely to be the norm across the country in November, but Wisconsin Democrats are advocating for intense digital outreach and well-organized vote-by-mail operations because these efforts were successful in one Wisconsin race and could work nationwide in November.
Sources: NPR 05/10/20, NPR 05/02/20, NPR 04/28/20, New York Times 05/10/20