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.