Last week, Republicans — on both the state and national level — put their own politics ahead of the health and safety of Wisconsinites, by severely limiting vote-by-mail in an effort to retain a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Wisconsin voters were forced to leave the safety of their own homes in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote. While many were able to request absentee ballots, thousands of voters who requested ballots never received them.
Voters across the state of Wisconsin were harmed, but those in marginalized communities were disproportionately impacted by these deplorable efforts to suppress the vote. People of color, LGBTQ people, elderly people, people living with disabilities, and people suffering from illnesses, particularly in urban counties, were forced to wait in lines for hours. Hours where they continued to be vulnerable to a virus shown to disproportionately impact them.
To be clear, Wisconsin’s electoral process was an absolute mess. While many voters mustered the sheer will and determination to overcome voter suppression efforts, we absolutely cannot allow this sequence of events to ever happen again. We must act now to protect our democracy.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, every poll over the last year has indicated unprecedented enthusiasm about the 2020 election. This enthusiasm suggests a potential record-breaking turnout in November, unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes. Americans want to participate in our democracy and it’s incumbent on our federal and state governments to ensure we all have that opportunity.
To that end, we are calling on Congress to fund, and states to implement the following provisions, so that we do not repeat what we saw in Wisconsin and that we are prepared for elections in November:
First, because of disruptions to traditional, in-person voter registration opportunities, states must expand voter registration options by allowing online voter registration and same day voter registration.
Second, all voters must be able to vote by mail, from the safety of their homes, if they choose. States must expand vote by mail options by, for example, removing restrictions such as witness requirements, and establishing no-excuse absentee voting.
And third, voters must be able to safely vote in person if they choose. States must expand in-person voting options by extending early voting periods, increasing the number of polling locations during early vote and on Election Day, and ensuring voters’ safety by following CDC guidance at all in-person polling locations.
President Trump and his anti-equality allies have already announced a $10 million voter suppression campaign to make it harder than ever before for people to vote. Our government should be promoting and improving access to our democracy, not limiting it.
Voting is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. But that right is under attack and voters across the country face a patchwork of voting laws that vary from place to place. However, one thing that every state shares is the extent to which the COVID-19 outbreak will change the way we exercise our right to vote.
The impacts of the COVID-19 virus will affect voters, government officials, and volunteer poll workers alike. In the face of such widespread change, our federal and state governments must act to safeguard the fundamental right to vote. No one in America should be denied the right to vote because of health and safety concerns or confusion about the voting process. The changes we call for today will make major improvements to our electoral system and ensure that voters have the opportunity to have their voices heard in a safe, secure manner. Doing nothing is untenable. Our right to vote is the fundamental pillar of our democracy and we must protect it.