The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a magnitude of unforeseen challenges to the 2020 Presidential election. With a majority of the nation still concerned for their safety, voting this year looks far more different than it ever has. It is unclear how these changes will affect voter turnout, but one thing is for sure, people around the nation are continuously worried about the problems that will arise in the weeks leading up to the election and what will happen on the night of November 3rd. The voter symposium presented by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice extensively discussed these possible issues and the most important way to combat them is educating yourself and understanding the possible roadblocks to ensure that your vote is counted.
The symposium opened with a keynote from Stacey Abrams, a representative in the Georgia House. She discussed the widespread issue of voter suppression and the ways that it has been impacted by the pandemic. She discusses massive displacement that has changed voter’s statuses on rolls as well as widespread polling location shutdowns. These issues are not new to voter suppression, but have been amplified due to COVID-19 and it is crucial that voters educate themselves and create a plan in regards to voting this year. Abrams recommends that making a plan and backup plan to vote will help to ease the stress of issues approaching election day, such as requesting and sending mail-in ballots on time as well as understanding the polling stations that will be available. In the 2018 general election, 58% of poll workers were above the age of 60, which proves to be an enormous threat to physical polling stations as volunteer numbers will greatly decrease due to health concerns among this age group.
Loss of poll workers and polling locations is a great concern for another panelist, Dale Ho, from the symposium. He worries that limited poll workers and locations throughout the country may create chaos on election day due to long lines and high numbers of voters. He fears that the challenges seen in the primaries due to reduced polling locations will be exacerbated election day. Only 25% of Trump voters surveyed said that they plan to vote by mail or absentee ballots in the coming election. Biden’s voters stand at 51% planning to vote by mail or absentee ballots. With a large percentage of voters still planning to vote in person, it is likely that poll locations will run into problems. Another concern for Dale Ho that stems from high rates of absentee and mail in ballots is confusion on election night. Absentee ballots must be processed and verified before they are able to be counted. There are only a handful of states that allow for absentee and mail in ballots to be counted before election day by state law, but they can not release the results until election day. Due to restrictions on counting ballots before the election, many states will be pressed to count all of their ballots on election night and may cause confusion amongst voters. If voters do not understand the restrictions and requirements when counting absentee and mail in ballots they may not believe that these tallies are accurate.
Rabia Belt, a symposium panelist, spoke about the challenges that the handicapped population are facing with voting during the pandemic. In 2016, the disabled population had a 6% lower turnout rate than the general population. This percentage could increase due to physical health concerns that will be amplified due to the pandemic for this group amongst many others. When turning to mail-in ballots this population is also facing challenges because mail in ballot requests and filling out the ballot are challenges for people with vision disabilities and may not have access to someone that can assist them in the process because of the pandemic. It is crucial that these people receive assistance in the process because if they do not, requesting and completing a mail-in ballot is not possible. People with physical disabilities may face similar issues when it comes to completing mail in ballots such as access to a mailbox, filling out the ballot, etc. These issues are concerns for anyone who is handicapped or cares for someone who is. The people who care for them have an obligation to understand how they can help a handicapped voter to ensure that their voice is heard and needs met through participating in the election.
The election is rapidly approaching and it is more important than ever that voters understand the challenges they may face, their options for voting, and create a plan. Understanding the roadblocks in this challenging election are the only ways that voter panic can be subsided. The Brennan Center for Justice Voter Symposium has become another source that voters can use to understand how different this election will be than previous years and how various obstacles can be overcome through planning to ensure that their vote will be counted.
American Association of People with Disabilities. “Statistics and Data.” AAPD, https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/statistics/. Accessed 10 10 2020.
Barthel, Michael, and Galen Stocking. “Older people account for large shares of poll workers and voters in U.S. general elections.” Pew Research Center, 06 04 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/06/older-people-account-for-large-shares-of-poll-workers-and-voters-in-u-s-general-elections/. Accessed 05 10 2020.
Harris, Adam. “The Voting Disaster Ahead.” The Atlantic, 30 06 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/06/voter-suppression-novembers-looming-election-crisis/613408/. Accessed 05 10 2020.
National Conference of State Legislatures. “VOPP Table 16: When Absentee/Mail Ballot Processing and Counting Can Begin.” National Conference of State Legislatures, 01 10 2020, https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/vopp-table-16-when-absentee-mail-ballot-processing-and-counting-can-begin.aspx. Accessed 05 10 2020.
Pew Research Center. “Amid Campaign Turmoil, Biden Holds Wide Leads on Coronavirus, Unifying the Country.” Pew Research Center: U.S. Politics and Policy, Pew Research Center, 09 10 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2020/10/09/amid-campaign-turmoil-biden-holds-wide-leads-on-coronavirus-unifying-the-country/. Accessed 10 10 2020.
Hi Isabel, I really enjoyed reading your article. This year’s election will certainly be one to remember. Voter suppression and the loss of polling locations will definitely hinder people’s participation in the election process. Even with record amounts of Americans requesting to vote by mail or absentee, it is concerning that the polling locations that remain will likely be crowded. Especially with supporters of a particular party refusing to wear masks or social distance. It is so important for people to voice their opinion through voting and it is even more important to have a plan and a backup as Stacey Abrams mentioned. There are still so many questions of how to safely and effectively run an election during a pandemic. Unless there is a landslide one way or the other, we will not know who won by the end of election night. What is your opinion on the laws governing when votes can begin to be counted? Nearly twenty-two million votes have already been cast, do you think states should make an exception for votes to be counted before November 3rd? I appreciate you bringing up the issue of handicapped voters, and how proper assistance may not be given to them. We have an obligation to ensure everyone has the ability to participate. Very interesting event and article!
Hi Isabel! I really liked this blog post, and I thought it showed the challenges / potential challenges that voters will face this election. My blog post was similar in fashion where I mentioned how voters now how to deal not only with misinformation, active external threats to throw the election, new rules, but with how the pandemic changes the way they vote.
When you were talking about how there are reduced poll stations and a lack of workers, did you come across any proposed solutions to that? Maybe Congress could pass a bill for future elections where an emergency fund could be used for those polling locations lacking funding. Also, do you think that there is any importance into looking deeper into those lack of polling stations? I have read over the years that some states strategically and wrongfully close down polling locations in historically disaffected minority communities. I know that if you make voting harder, like having to drive farther to get to a poll, or more confusing, like how EXACTLY to mail in your ballot, people will potentially become dissuaded from voting at all.
I was curious if you found anything on those two areas. Do you have any suggestions or ideas on how to fix this? Some of my colleagues think we should be able to vote online; we do our taxes online, submit our SS number, so why hasn’t our country explored building the infrastructure for that? I think there are certain pros and cons to that idea, but clearly our system isn’t working for everybody. I don’t necessarily think it is “broken”, however, I think it is functioning just as it was meant to.
Hi Isabel, great blog post! I joined a roundtable about voting, but it was more about voting manipulation so it was interesting to read about a different aspect of voting. I am intrigued that the percent of Trump supporters who plan to vote by mail-in ballot or absentee ballot is significantly less than the percent of Biden supporters who plan to do so. I can’t help but think that this has to do with Trumps outspokenness about his distrust in the vote by mail system.
Historically, those that are 65+ have had the greatest percent of voter turnout. In 2016, 71% of eligible voters 65+ voted, while 46% of 18-29 year olds voted. I wonder if the current circumstances will cause these percentages to shift. I would consider it unsafe for an elderly person to attend the polls to vote and I am not too sure how easy it would be for them to request a mail in ballot. Either of these things is definitely more achievable for a person in the 18-29 age group. There is also a huge social media presence devoted to getting teens to vote and I wonder how this will affect who participates. I am very intrigued to see how this election will change the way we vote in the future, if at all. Do you think we should continue to have the ability to vote by mail in ballot in future elections?