The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on life globally, and American elections are not immune. We must ensure voters are protected without discouraging them from participating in the democratic process.
The best case study for this is the Wisconsin primary election that took place on April 7. Several other states in weeks prior had postponed their primary elections due to coronavirus concerns, but all eyes were on Governor Tony Evers as the election seemed set to proceed. Finally, the day before the election, Evers announced the election would be postponed until June. Everyone gave a collective sigh of relief – until hours later, the State Supreme Court overturned the order, saying Evers did not have the authority to postpone the election. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state court, and Wisconsin’s election proceeded on Tuesday. Not only that, but the request to extend the absentee ballot deadline was denied, even as the postal service has been slowed due to the pandemic.
In the midst of a global pandemic, voter safety should be our top concern; however, Republicans are consistently making it harder and less safe to vote, such as requiring an excuse to vote absentee, purging voters from rolls by the hundreds of thousands, and requiring specific forms of voter ID. However, Democrats across the country are fighting for the right to a free, fair and safe election process – anything else would be un-American.
Republicans often cite voter fraud as the reason for such stringent rules and regulations. The truth is that voter fraud is incredibly rare, especially on an individual basis. The consequences include jail time and far outweigh the possible rewards. In fact, the Heritage Foundation found only 239 cases of absentee ballot-related voter fraud since 1997. Yet Republican-engineered voter suppression efforts keep hundreds of thousands of people from voting each election.
In order to protect the sanctity of our elections and encourage participation we need nationwide no-excuse absentee voting, like 33 states have already adopted. Texas, however, is not one of them.
There is hope for Texas, though – a district judge ruled that any Texan could request an absentee ballot for the 2020 election cycle under the disability qualification. Republicans in the state will almost certainly appeal the ruling, but there is starting to be a general consensus on what is and isn’t safe during the time of COVID-19.
Being able to safely vote should not be a partisan issue. If voters are required to physically go to the polls, that will disenfranchise millions of people who cannot risk contracting COVID-19, such as older voters and those with underlying health conditions. Restricting people from being able to vote benefits no one.
We must allow everyone to vote safely.