What You Need to Know to Protect Elections Amid COVID-19

Our nation is in a state of emergency, and so too is our democracy. 

Recently, voters in Wisconsin were gripped by confusion, chaos, and uncertainty — all amid a global health emergency.

Let’s be clear: We cannot allow that to happen again in the upcoming primaries or the election in November. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to speak out. No one should ever have to choose between public safety and casting a ballot.

The future is what we build together. So, let’s walk through a few key points that are helpful to understand about voting and elections right now.

What Is Voting by Mail? 

Vote by mail offers Americans the opportunity to receive their ballot in the mail and vote from the safety and convenience of their homes, rather than voting in person at a polling place. Voting by mail is a great option and it should be easy and accessible for all eligible voters. To do that, we encourage states to follow these steps: 

  1. Make it easy for voters to request mail-in ballots. Voters should be permitted to request a ballot online or via phone through a one-step process. 
  2. Relax vote-by-mail ballot requirements. Many states have technical rules about voting by mail, which can result in ballots getting rejected for no good reason. Some of these rules especially disenfranchise voters of color and young voters. States need to clarify rules, notify voters if their ballots are rejected, and give people a chance to fix any problems.
  3. Make it easy for voters to return ballots. States should provide prepaid postage on the return ballots so that people who vote by mail do not have to pay to vote. States should also allow voters to return their absentee ballots in person during early voting and on Election Day and increase the availability of drop boxes in all communities. 

States and counties are making decisions right now about these policies. To find the most up to date information, you can visit your local county election official website.

Voters Must Have Options

Vote by mail is an essential approach to any election response plan. But voters must have multiple options to cast their ballots. Our analysis shows that if states only allow voters to vote by mail, communities that have historically faced barriers to the ballot could be blocked from voting, including voters of color, Native Americans, people with disabilities, non-English speakers, students, and low-income families.

There is no one panacea for elections during a pandemic. That’s why to ensure full voter access, states need to provide a range of options for voters, including: 

  1. Expanding online voter registration. All voters should be able to register to vote online and states should ensure the registration system is secure and stable to handle the influx this year. Currently 37 states and the District of Columbia offer online voter registration. The remaining states need to implement it now.
  2. Extending early voting periods for at least two weeks prior to the election, including weekends. This allows people to follow social distancing protocols and keep their loved ones and communities safe.
  3. Establishing safe and sanitary in-person polling places. Since many voters will need to vote in person, we must ensure that polling places adhere to CDC guidance and take every precaution to protect poll workers and voters from exposure to COVID-19.

Lawmakers and election officials must be transparent about these changes and widely distribute information to the public in advance of elections. 

That’s where you come in, too. It will take a massive voter education effort this summer and early fall to ensure Americans are prepared and activated to vote in November. And that includes fighting disinformation on social media platforms. As trusted messengers with your families, friends, and communities, it is critical for you to follow the facts and share them in your networks. 

The actions that lawmakers, state election officials, and all of us take now will determine not just how we weather this storm, but also the kind of democracy we will have when it’s over.

Why Your Advocacy Matters

Administering elections during a pandemic is new territory for the United States. But it is essential. 

Without a functional democracy in which everyone is included, heard, and represented, we cannot make real progress on civil and human rights issues like affordable health care, fair wages, educational equity, and justice reform — to name just a few.

Given this country’s history of denying voters of color access to the ballot box, we must be ever vigilant to guard against obstacles preventing our communities from voting — especially amid these uncertain days.

So together, let’s make 2020 a year of engagement. Of action. Of helping all communities see themselves — and their power — in our democracy. 

Stay Informed and Take Action

  • Tune into Turn Up Tuesdays. The Leadership Conference and All Voting is Local, with its joint campaign And Still I Vote, launched Turn Up Tuesdays — a weekly series of events to mobilize communities to turn up to vote and urge decisionmakers to protect our democracy. Tune in every Tuesday at 5:30 pm EST, and catch up on broadcasts highlighting voting rights issues in Wisconsin, Ohio, and New York.

  • Contact your members of Congress and urge them to approve at least $3.6 billion in the next relief package for safe and fair elections. You can call the Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121 or send your members emails. For more information, read our letter to Congress joined by more than 150 civil rights organizations urging members to fully fund the 2020 elections and direct states and counties to administer elections in a safe, fair, and accessible manner.
  • Follow us on social media. We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @civilrightsorg and @VotingIsLocal for updates about our work across the country to ensure every voice is heard this year.