Conducting Elections During a Pandemic
Burris, S., de Guia, S., Gable, L., Levin, D.E., Parmet, W.E., Terry, N.P. (Eds.) (2020). Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19. Boston: Public Health Law Watch
7 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2020
Date Written: July 31, 2020
At the beginning of 2020, many believed that the biggest threat to our elections was foreign interference, consistent with disinformation campaigns launched by our adversaries. But even with this lingering threat, it was expected that voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election would break records – perhaps even reaching the highest level of turnout since the nation saw more than 65% of eligible voters participate in the election of 1908, over a century ago (USEP, 2020). The onset of the pandemic brought much uncertainty, as election officials faced unprecedented challenges, unsettled law, and diminishing resources, while voters were torn between concern about our democracy and fear of contracting COVID-19. Widespread shortages of poll workers and safe polling locations, rushed transitions to mail voting, and insufficient funding could not diminish the democratic spirit, however, and we’ve seen primary turnout break records in some states. Most experts in the field believe that we should plan for the highest turnout in generations this fall, even as we expect that restrictions and fears due to the pandemic will be in full force. What’s also apparent, however, is that law, policy, and perhaps most importantly, administrative and informational practices in our highly decentralized administration of elections are not yet fully equipped to facilitate safe, secure, and convenient voting for 150 million Americans in the midst of a global health crisis. And while solutions like expanding mail voting will be necessary, no one solution will solve this problem, nor will all states find themselves able to offer the same options to all voters. We will need a multifaceted approach including easy mail voting, a massive recruitment of new poll workers to allow for safe and convenient in-person voting, and an unparalleled voter education effort to meet this challenge.
This paper was prepared as part of Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19, a comprehensive report published by Public Health Law Watch in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association.
Keywords: Public health, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, legal response, election
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