Voting in the time of coronavirus: Report lays out roadmap for safe elections during a pandemic

Voting in the time of coronavirus: Report lays out roadmap for safe elections during a pandemic
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The Brennan Center for Justice has issued a timely report on how to ensure that the 2020 election is "free, fair, accessible, and secure" even if there is still a widespread outbreak of COVID-19.

It calls for a universal option to vote by mail but argues that polling places must remain open for "people without Internet and mail access, those who need language assistance to vote, and people with disabilities who rely on voting machines to cast a private and independent ballot [and] may be disenfranchised if polling places are closed." Polling places should, however, be relocated from "buildings that primarily serve communities identified as high risk for serious Covid-19 illness, like senior care facilities." And the report's authors argue that early voting should be expanded to further minimize the amount of people at a polling place at any given time.

They call for polling places to be disinfected according to CDC guidelines and for hand sanitizer to be made widely available.

Ballot-marking procedures should be established to minimize viral transmission. For instance, where possible, voters should be provided with disposable pens to mark paper ballots and should also be encouraged to bring their own pens to the polling place. Election officials should consult with their machine vendors to determine whether Q-tips or other disposable devices can be used to mark votes, instead of voters using their fingers.

They also call for expanded online registration and for poll workers trained and supplied for a surge in provisional ballots being cast.

Importantly, the authors note that "fear and confusion around a pandemic create a fertile environment for disinformation and efforts to manipulate the electoral process for improper purposes and partisan gain. State officials, advocates, and citizens should take steps to guard against the use of Covid-19 to suppress voters or otherwise manipulate the election."

  • States and localities should be clear and transparent about changes to voting rules.
  • Aggressive public education campaigns must be mounted to inform voters regarding changes to voting rules and options.
    • Enhanced advertising in languages other than English should be provided to ensure that all voters understand changes to voting rules and options.
    • Election websites should be made fully accessible to voters with disabilities.
    • Funding will be needed to reach large numbers of voters affected by changes to voting rules and options.
  • States will also need to plan to combat disinformation about voting rules changes, including strengthening the resiliency of tools for voter information like polling place lookup websites.

You can read the entire report here.

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