As states scramble to boost voting by mail efforts in light of the coronavirus pandemic, many are beginning to question how this transformation will impact the 2020 elections. Although voting by mail might seem like a simple process at first glance, even one that could improve turnout, underlying problems will undoubtedly arise as states rapidly switch to this voting method.
When looking in retrospect to the calamity of the in-person Wisconsin primary, voting by mail appears preferable to forcing Americans to risk their lives. In case you missed it, on April 7th, 2020, Wisconsin chose to continue in-person voting even though their polling stations were short of staff and most Wisconsinites were quarantined. Wisconsin has since reported that 52 new coronavirus cases to date have been traced back to that primary, exemplifying the dangers of voting in-person during a pandemic. Not only has this election affected the number of cases, but thousands of Wisconsin ballots have been nullified as a result of lack of planning. Many Americans would deem civic duty to be important, but one’s well being should never have to be put at risk in order to exercise the right to vote. Not only does voting by mail seem preferable for health, but also for elevating voter turnout if combined with methods such as same day voter registration. As a result, more attention and funding must be brought to considering the switch to voting by mail in order to ease the process and ensure every American that wants to vote can.
That said, although voting by mail is a stronger option to in-person voting, shifting too suddenly across the country raises a variety of future problems that have not yet been accounted for. For example, election results will take much longer to be available, privacy concerns will arise, and the list goes on. One of the biggest challenges is that without sufficient funding, it is unlikely that ballots will be received by everyone who needs them. According to The Hill, the integrity of the 2020 election can not be ensured unless far larger amounts of funding are allocated by Congress. In fact, the CARES Act, which was recently passed by Congress, includes implementation of voting by mail, but only includes a fraction of the funds that would be required to make such a switch. To quantify, a predicted two billion dollars will be needed, while four hundred million dollars, twenty percent of the required amount, are currently allocated. As a result, America will be simultaneously dealing with both a historical change in voting methods as well as a lack of funding, only adding to public concerns.
One of the biggest concerns related to voting by mail is the lack of assistance. For those who require foreign language assistance such as translation services, the staff at polling centers normally play a crucial role in helping to cast a vote. Without such assistance readily available during these unusual times, many will find themselves in trouble when attempting to vote from home. Latina voter, Blanca Torres worries that she and others who speak Spanish as their primary language will not be as equipped this election year due to language limitations. Not only are translation services imperative, but general voting assistance is also critical. Without voting assistance, any American could make a simple mistake without voting staff present to notice, especially young or first-time voters in states such as Ohio, where seventeen-year-olds are able to vote. Mistakes in voting are certainly not new to the political process, as confusing ballot designs have influenced election results in the past, an example being the 2000 Presidential election in Florida. In that election, a Palm Beach election supervisor increased the font size of candidates’ names, spreading them across two pages and using a hole punch method for voting. This single ballot design led to controversy and stimulated debate over the meaning of “hanging chads” upon which the results of the entire election literally hung. With even less assistance this election year, and the legitimacy of the election already in question given the role that Russia was found to have played in the 2016 election, additional controversy is almost guaranteed to be brought to the election process.
Looking at the overall voting process, it is evident that COVID-19 will have a significant effect on the 2020 elections in one way or another. Whatever effect that may be, it should not have to involve the health of any American nor force anybody to pick between their favorite candidate or their life. Significant complications may result from voting by mail, but it is how America as a country chooses to deal with those difficulties that will truly make a difference.
Simran Saini is a sophomore at Raleigh Charter High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is passionate about the voices of underrepresented groups in politics and believes political engagement is important for everyone to contribute to. Apart from writing, she likes to serve her community in different ways, whether it be being a youth attorney at a local courthouse, being a cook at a soup kitchen, or starting a summer literacy program at a mobile home park. Simran is so excited to start writing for NGP and to bring her viewpoint to this organization!