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- Images of masked Wisconsin citizens — queued up in unceasing lines as they attempted to practice both social distancing and their civic duty — provided a dire warning of what’s to come.
- There is a good chance the coronavirus pandemic will still be disrupting major events come this November, when the US will hold a presidential election.
- Should the coronavirus cripple — or even threaten — Americans’ freedom of movement on Election Day, it will be all but impossible to consider the result legitimate.
- That’s why the president, Congress, and the states need to get plans together for no-excuse-needed absentee voting right now.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
We need to talk about November. Right now.
This week’s images of masked Wisconsin citizens — queued up in unceasing lines as they attempted to practice both social distancing and their civic duty — provided a dire warning of what’s to come.
Democratic primary voters being forced to violate their own state’s stay-at-home voters to cast their ballots is outrageous, but at least the stakes were low. Joe Biden already had the nomination all but locked up, and now that his main rival Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign, the rest of the primaries are just delegate-accruing formalities.
The same can’t be said for the general presidential election that’s less than seven months away.
The election is almost certain to happen. But there is a good chance the public health crisis we are facing now will not have dissipated.
The coronavirus doesn’t care about the 20th Amendment, which stipulates that the president and vice president’s four-year terms must end on January 20. The pandemic also has no regard for the congressional statute mandating general elections to take place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Given those realities, the powers that be at both the federal and state level would be wise to come up with a backup plan, lest our already fragile sense of national unity wither and fray completely.
Most of the country is barely a month into a lockdown that may or not be lifted within the coming months. In the still-not-assured event of a cautious return to something resembling “normalcy,” a second or third wave of COVID-19 could very well lead to second and third lockdowns later this year.
Should the coronavirus cripple — or even threaten — Americans’ freedom of movement on Election Day, it will be all but impossible to consider the result legitimate.
But there are ways to prepare.
Business financial make money capital trading The government often overreacts to crises, but failing to plan for a COVID-19 outbreak in November would be a disastrous underreaction
I am not an advocate of the “Do Something, Anything!” mantra of government crisis management. Such reactive policy-making typically takes the form of a well-publicized tragedy leading the public to demand some form of legislation — fast, severe, and symbolic — to demonstrate how much the politicians care.
But a massive effort to ensure the most people as possible can safely vote in November, initiated by the federal government but implemented by the states, would not be a case of the government overreacting to a tragedy by curbing people’s rights. It would be the rare example of the government anticipating a highly probable calamity and finding a way to manage it which preserves and protects people’s rights.
The first and most obvious step would be for Congress to approve a plan to help fund states with the production of millions of absentee ballots, and to cover the costs of mailing them so the cost of a stamp doesn’t become a backdoor poll tax.
Five states, including deep-red Utah, already use an “all-mail” voting system. The rest of the republic’s legislatures need to institute, at a minimum, a one-time waiver allowing for no-excuse-needed absentee voting.
States will need to expand their voting hours and find more polling places than they would use in a typical year, to avoid overcrowding and the mortifyingly long lines seen in Wisconsin last week. To the extent possible, drive-through voting with frequently disinfected machines should also be made available.
Business financial make money capital trading Trump’s afraid of absentee voting. That’s too bad for him.
In late March, Trump told the hosts of “Fox and Friends” that one of the stimulus bills pushed by House Democrats was “totally crazy” because it included provisions for 15 days of early voting and would have automatically sent absentee ballots to areas of the country where elections could be threatened by a coronavirus flare-up.
“If you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” said Trump — who notably cast an absentee ballot to vote in Florida’s most recent election. (He defended that choice by saying he was “allowed to.”)
Trump not only presented a completely illegitimate argument against taking the easiest available measure to ensure voters can safely cast their ballots, available data proves his fears about certain Republican losses if vote-by-mail is widely expanded are not even true.
And true to his character, Trump continues to stoke completely baseless fears of widespread — or even statistically significant — voter fraud. (Trump’s own voting integrity commission quietly disbanded in 2018 without finding the supposed scourge of voter fraud he’s so often claimed.)
We know very little about how the coronavirus pandemic will reshape the country in the coming months. What we can be sure of, however, is continued disruption of public events.
That’s why there can be no excuses from the president, Congress, or the states to assume Election Day 2020 will be just like any other. A coordinated effort to ensure political franchise needs to be prioritized and undertaken immediately.
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If you think the electoral college sending two popular vote-losing Republicans to the White House in the past two decades is a source of bitter division, know it can get so much worse.
Imagine a scenario where millions of voters sit out an election because the same government that told them to shelter in place also told them to stand in line for hours amid the resurgence of a highly transmissible virus.
That would cause a crisis of confidence in the democratic process which the country from which the country might never recover.