As COVID-19 Spreads, Protecting Public Health And The Right To Vote Are Paramount

As the country continues to grapple with challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Common Cause encourages election officials and lawmakers to consider adopting emergency measures to protect public health and every Americans’ right to vote in the upcoming primary elections and the November general election.

“The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge to our elections, but those elections can and must be held this year,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Americans expect and deserve to have their say at the polls to choose their representatives and to hold their elected officials accountable. It is crucial for election administrators to consult with public health officials, local election officials, and voting rights advocates as they consider changes to their state’s voting processes and be completely transparent with voters about any changes. This is a time for our country to be united to protect each other as we face COVID-19, and that includes rethinking the way we manage our elections in many states.”

It is understandable that election officials are considering whether to move upcoming primary elections to help protect the public’s health. We believe this is a state-by-state decision and election officials should consult with all involved parties to decide what’s best for their state and voters. Primaries delayed due to public health concerns must be rescheduled with a new date announced at the same time the postponement is announced. Steps must be taken by state officials to ensure that any rescheduled primary is conducted in a timely, safe, and orderly manner. Nothing should be done in the rescheduling of primaries that in any way restricts or shortens voting hours, but instead election administrators are encouraged to expand them. No delay or rescheduling of a primary can be done to give advantage to any candidate, or campaign, and must not be manipulated for partisan advantage.

However, there is plenty of time for states to adopt new reforms and procedures that will ensure the November general election takes place as scheduled. While election laws vary in each state, Common Cause recommends election administrators consider adopting the following options to make voting more accessible and secure for the November election, and implement as many as possible for the remaining primary elections, as the nation deals with this pandemic. We understand that there is not a ’one-size-fits-all’ reform and each state will have to weigh these options based on their current laws and election infrastructure to do what works best for voters in their state.

  • Expand vote-by-mail programs and absentee voting wherever possible. This includes mailing absentee ballot applications to all active voters. It is critical that if election administrators expand vote-by-mail programs, that the state has the infrastructure and processes in place to ensure voters aren’t disenfranchised during the receipt, verification, and tallying of a larger volume of mail-in ballots.
  • For states that require an excuse to vote absentee, issue executive orders or pass emergency legislation to allow public and private health issues related to COVID-19 to be used as a reason to vote absentee.
  • Extend deadlines to allow late-arriving absentee ballots to be counted and to count all ballots postmarked by Election Day.
  • Extend early in-person voting hours to help keep crowds and lines down at polling sites on Election Day.
  • For states that have polling sites in assisted living facilities, senior community centers, or schools, election administrators should make every effort to move the polling place outside or to a new location and immediately contact the impacted voters to let them know their voting location has changed.
  • If any polling location changes, election administrators should provide information to the public immediately in a transparent way, including diverting funds for advertising and direct voter communication that include print, radio, TV, and online advertising, a minimum of two direct mail pieces explaining changes to every voter. The ads should be of sufficient size and frequency so as to meet minimal advertising standards for recognition and recall by non-, in-, and frequent voters alike, along with having clear signage at the original location noting the polling site has moved with directions to the new location.
  • Provide funding to local election administrators to adopt all recommended best practices to limit or remove the risk of exposure of COVID-19 based on information from public health officials.
  • Election officials should be developing rapid response plans that include back-up election administration plans for pandemics, natural disasters, and power outages.
  • Avoid moving to any email or internet voting system, as all of these systems have been proven to be insecure and votes cannot be protected from tampering or deletion. The intelligence agencies have widely documented that foreign governments are already targeting our election infrastructure and have in past years infiltrated local election boards and other election infrastructure.