Note: this piece was originally published in The Hill, and was written by Checks & Balances members Trevor Potter and Paul Rosenzweig.
As the coronavirus pandemic grips the country, our election infrastructure will be tested. With the potential for a second wave of infections returning this fall, policymakers on both the federal and state levels should act now to expand ballot access to prepare to conduct the election safely. Unlike primary elections, which can sometimes get postponed, federal law and the Constitution mandate the date of the general election. We are going to vote for president in November, and we need to do it safely.
With its primary falling during the eye of the storm this week, Wisconsin has shown how restrictive voting laws can wreak havoc on elections. The state law requires that a witness validates the identification of each voter, threatening to invalidate the ballots of many people who voted absentee, particularly senior citizens. Because many people have also been isolating themselves to avoid contracting the coronavirus, it can be a challenge to find a witness, particularly for all those voters who live alone.
Other states present glimmers of hope. In Arizona and Florida, with aging populations, primaries went on as scheduled last month. The turnout was not dampened as many had feared. Out in Maricopa County, home to over four million people, 2020 turnout in early and mail voting alone exceeded the total turnout for the entire 2016 Democratic primary. Allowing people to vote early in person or by mail is necessary not only because it grants people the option of casting their ballots from the safety of their homes, but also because it reduces crowding and the strain on polling locations, which are essential for all of these vulnerable communities.