As state-wide shutdowns continue, voting rights groups and lawmakers are working to ensure every American citizen gets to exercise their right to vote.
Just a few weeks ago, the Democratic primaries were front and center. Whether it was on the television, in our news headlines, or interspersed in our conversations, the upcoming Presidential elections were all we could talk about. However, now that the Coronavirus epidemic has hit the United States, there is little talk about voting day. Nonetheless, the 2020 elections will be held as scheduled. But if no one goes out to vote due to the shutdowns across the country, that could be a major challenge. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the call to vote by mail has grown stronger over the past few weeks. Now, the Federal Election Commission must develop a plan to ensure American citizens still get to vote, CNN reports.
The call to make vote-by-mail more accessible has been sounded by election officials and voting rights groups. Should the Federal Election Commission choose to create an all vote-by-mail system, it will be applicable for any remaining primaries as well as the November general election. At a time when the spread of the novel Coronavirus still poses a major threat to Americans, this step is viewed as both "necessary and urgent" by Ellen Weintraub, one of three current members of the Federal Election Commission. She asserted in a statement released last week, "As Congress and the White House race to save American lives and preserve America's economy, they must also act swiftly to protect America's democracy. No one should have to risk their life - or the lives of their loved ones - to cast their vote."
She's right. No one should have to risk their or their family members' lives in order to exercise their right to vote. With this in mind, several lawmakers and advocates have pushed for emergency legislation that would enable all state residents to vote by mailing in their ballots. At present, only five states - Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah - conduct elections entirely by mail, as per the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another 28 states and the District of Columbia offer residents the option of "no-excuse" voting by mail. This is a version of absentee voting wherein a voter does not need to state a reason for missing election day.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, for instance, sent a letter asking her state's lawmakers to authorize all-mail elections for August in time for Arizona's local primary and the November general election. Further to this, in the state of Texas, Texas Democrats filed a lawsuit demanding a declaratory judgment in order to grant all eligible voters who think their health may be at risk due to the spread of COVID-19 the ability to cast their vote by mail if they choose to do so. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers passed a legally nonbinding resolution so as to pressure Governor Tom Wolf and the state legislature to permit the "election to occur entirely through absentee and mail-in ballots in order to prevent the need to vote in person."
Voting rights groups, too, have been doing their part to push respective state legislatures to make voting by mail more accessible. RepresentUs, a democracy reform group, for example, recently launched a campaign to persuade more states into instituting a no-excuse absentee vote by mail option. "We know that the virus isn't going to go away soon. Right now we are trying to mitigate the surge that will overrun the medical industry, the hospitals, but we know that this virus is going to be around for many months," he stated in an interview with CNN. "So we need a system in place so that everyone in this country can vote from home in 2020." Does your state allow you to vote by mail? If you're unsure, find out more here. Now is the time to make sure your right to vote isn't restricted because your local lawmakers didn't act.