Policy Impacts

Protecting Our Elections in Times of Crisis

March 25, 2020

As measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 intensify across the country, people have been forced to adjust to the many new challenges of altered day-to-day activities. From millions of students shifting to distance learning, to organizations scrambling to implement long-term remote work plans, to the limiting of traditional pastimes as sports leagues cancel seasons and restaurants are forced to shift to take-away only or close, no sector of the nation has remained untouched. While the focus — appropriately so — has honed in on the reality of lost wages and jobs, the impact on upcoming elections is also becoming evident.

COVID-19 poses an unprecedented threat to the way that most people vote in elections. Voters standing in line within close proximity to one another, handling ballots and using touchscreens increases the potential for community transmission of the virus. Expanding alternatives for Americans to vote is of vital importance to ensuring our democracy and the continuity of governance.

There are several steps we can take on a state and national level to eliminate the choice between protecting public health and protecting the right to vote. One option is to expand vote-by-mail procedures. Each state has its own requirements for obtaining an absentee ballot. Currently, five states conduct all-mail elections, including Oregon and Colorado.

A bill introduced by Mississippi Future Caucus Co-Chair Jeramey Anderson earlier this year took a first step towards improving the absentee voting system in the Magnolia State. Originally directed at assisting college students in the voting process, HB 1538 would enable students to submit electronic absentee ballot applications on a secure website. Upon verification of that application, students would receive absentee ballots for all elections occurring during that approved period of time in the mail.

Although introduced back in February, bills similar to Anderson’s would help streamline the process of absentee-voting as well as protect voters from COVID-19 in the upcoming elections. Given that this is an election year and we are currently in primary season, there is a lot of interest in identifying ways to protect our elections during this time of uncertainty. Congressional legislation has already been introduced requiring States to adopt contingency plans to prevent the disruption of Federal elections. Expanding vote-by-mail programs increases accessibility under normal circumstances, and secure elections during times of national crisis. Lawmakers must act now to ensure voting in America during the 2020 elections remains fair, accessible, and safe.

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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