As the coronavirus pandemic fanned across the country in the spring, Democrats looking ahead to the presidential election urged people to stay home in November—and vote by mail.
Minnesota’s secretary of state encouraged all eligible voters to cast their ballot by mail. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam told “every Virginian who can vote by mail to do so.” The instruction echoed from Pennsylvania to Nevada, where Governor Steve Sisolak said, “We prefer that people stay home, especially if you’re in a vulnerable situation.”
The message was heard, loud and clear. An August Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that roughly half of Biden voters expect to cast their ballot by mail this fall, an unprecedented figure. And, you might ask, why not? Mail-in voting reliably expands the electorate, with minimal fraud, without forcing people to queue with strangers and chance transmitting a deadly virus.
But the past few months have complicated the idea that voting in person is risky—and that voting by mail is entirely risk-free.
Voting in person is probably not as dangerous as Democratic leaders initially feared. Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to wear masks in public, no major outbreaks have been traced to voting queues. Experts now say that voting with a mask on is no more dangerous than going to a grocery store with a mask on—something millions of American do every week. Evidence of the safety of in-person voting spans the world. South Korea, where public mask wearing is nearly universal, held a national parliamentary election in April with its highest turnout in three decades. No outbreaks there.