The COVID-19 pandemic poses a substantial threat to U.S. elections, as described in previous reports by the Center for American Progress. Unless officials make significant changes to state election systems before November, Americans who vote or serve as election workers will be forced to put their lives at risk in order to participate in the democratic process. And it is not just voters or election personnel who have good cause for concern. Even those who cannot cast a ballot could become ill by coming into contact with a family member, caregiver, or neighbor who contracts the coronavirus through the voting process.
Although COVID-19 affects people from all backgrounds and communities, some groups are at higher risk of contracting and becoming seriously ill from the virus, including:
- People ages 65 or older
- People with preexisting conditions
- People of color
- People with disabilities
In considering best practices for administering elections during a pandemic, lawmakers must take into account the health and safety of not just those involved in the voting process but also members of entire state populations who could be negatively affected if proper precautions are not taken. In order to keep voters, poll workers, and especially populations at risk of COVID-19 safe, state and national leaders must take immediate action to fortify the voting process and protect voters and nonvoters alike.
Indeed, in-person voting during Wisconsin’s primary in early April raised concerns that in the absence of important safeguards, community spread can occur through the voting process. Despite best efforts by election officials, the state’s election infrastructure proved inadequate for accommodating social distancing and huge surges in vote by mail. Countless lives were put at risk because of these shortcomings.
By expanding access to vote by mail and implementing at least two weeks of early voting, lawmakers can protect voters and election workers—some of whom may belong to these at-risk populations—and the fundamental right to vote. In doing so, they will also help mitigate potential COVID-19-related health risks deriving from the voting process, including by diminishing the chance for community spread.