Americans Shouldn’t Have To Risk Dying To Vote.

These days, standing in line next to other people can kill you, and yet there are lines everywhere. Lines for unemployment in Florida. Lines for food in Ohio. Lines to vote in Wisconsin. In fact, we’ve just learned that at least 67 Wisconsinites got COVID-19 after voting or working at the polls on April 7.

Yet sadly, President Trump has made it very clear that he’s pro-line and against vote-by-mail (VBM) as well as other measures that would allow Americans to vote safely, securely, and with ease during the pandemic. This week, Trump, who votes by mail in Florida, took extraordinary measures to thwart efforts like VBM. Yet according to a recent Gallup Poll, VBM is supported by 64% of Americans. He’s launched a $20 million fund through his campaign and the Republican National Committee to fight easing remote voting restrictions, and installed a political crony and one of the RNC’s largest donors to lead the United States Postal Service. He couldn’t kill the USPS, so he just conducted a hostile takeover.

By switching to VBM, we can get rid of lines and make voting safer. It won’t be easy. But we have to do it or people will die. And with VBM, we can reassure Americans that their ballots are secure. The U.S. Postal Service has handled sensitive and discreet parcels each and every day for more than two centuries. Just as they do with sensitive items like bank statements, tax documents, and credit cards, the Postal Service can easily handle ballots with the same discretion and security.

There are challenges. Currently, only 10 states allow citizens to sign up online to vote by mail, and a number of states, such as Missouri, Texas, Michigan and Alabama, make voting by mail difficult and lack the means to run such a program securely or effectively. The Postal Service may become an extension of a political party. Home printer ownership is in the single digits and declining rapidly. Buying a stamp is already rare, and it’s about to become impossible because who is going to risk their life for a stamp? But America can absolutely vote by mail in November if we act now.

This is why VoteAmerica was created. Americans will need new voting tools so they can vote safely. And to build those tools, they’ll need a team of experts, including professional academics, designers, and technologists, like those at VoteAmerica who are focused on helping Americans vote safely while a pandemic and election collide in real-time.

There are two emergency measures needed immediately to support voters and election officials in this crisis.

  • Research: Academic experts need to run nationwide tests to measure how to best educate voters on the new rules and processes of voting in a pandemic
  • Technology: Americans need an online VBM signup tool that renders the process paperless for voters in as many states as possible and that ensures matching signatures

Ensuring safe, secure, and accessible elections is part of a functioning democracy, yet decades of underfunding, partisan hijinks, and growing patchwork of state-by-state barriers to voting have left our election systems vulnerable to a system-level attack. We are left to watch a meltdown of social systems and safety nets. Still, our ability to vote safely is in uniquely bad shape.

Election officials are in the same pandemic as everyone else. Their lives have been turned upside down, and now many will be challenged to a greater extent than ever before to expand their election capacity by orders of magnitude. An increase in the physical volume of mail will crater our systems. As pandemic hot spots shift, so too will voting locations and election information. If people won’t leave their homes to buy stamps, request ballots, or stand in lines, then our job is to be the safe distance between voters and their elections.

In the face of a pro-line president, Democracy needs a face mask. That’s why VoteAmerica, and other non-profit organizations like us, are stepping in to fill the gap left by a broken election system. Our programs have helped millions of people vote by mail, request absentee ballots, register and turn out to vote. We have been building this muscle for a long time. But frankly, this is all terrifying — for us, for voters, and for the volunteers that show up early on Election Day to make our democracy function. If we can be the rope bridge that gets voters out of harm’s way, our careers as experts and voting advocates will have been put to good use.

In America’s history, people have died to vote. In our future, no one should die from voting. And in order to protect democracy, what happens next to ensure safe and secure elections must be as extraordinary as the president’s efforts to stop them.

So let’s do it. Let’s vote by mail, America.

Voters standing in line in Milwaukee, wearing masks and holding a cardboard sign saying “THIS IS RIDICULOUS”
(Photo: Patricia McKnight / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

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