Even in ordinary times, voting is hard for many Americans, requiring them to wait in long lines and, in some cases, forgo wages as a result. Of course, these are not ordinary times. Today, and possibly even this November, the potential cost of casting a ballot in person on Election Day could be considerably higher, given that crowds and shared surfaces (such as the interface of an electronic voting machine) present perfect environments for spreading the coronavirus.
The election is too important to let fall prey to this virus. Americans must ensure that the country’s democratic process moves forward as scheduled. And there is one time-tested and straightforward way to do that: nationwide vote by mail.
The question of expanding access to voting by mail should not be left to the states to decide. The country needs a federal law that ensures all citizens may exercise their right to vote, without having to jeopardize their health. Congress should swiftly pass a law that mandates the option of early voting by mail in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
A ready-to-hand legislative vehicle already exists for achieving this. In pending relief legislation, the Senate has proposed providing states with more than $400 million in assistance to help support the 2020 general election, which could cover expenses for rolling out and running voting by mail, in addition to monies for more polling places, poll workers, and voting machines. But this is not enough. Financial incentives, although important, are not the same as a direct mandate to make voting by mail available to all citizens who wish to use it. Congress need not ban in-person voting absolutely, but should merely require that a mail-in ballot automatically be sent to each and every registered voter (regardless of whether a voter affirmatively requests one). It would then be up to individual voters either to use that mail-in ballot or to vote in person on Election Day.