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This week in COVID-19 voting news

What it means for access to the ballot box during the pandemic
For Immediate Release

National

The U.S. Postal Service recently announced a large-scale reorganization aimed at increasing efficiency. But Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general who was appointed in May, is under heavy scrutiny following these adjustments. Critics argue that the changes he has made, including eliminating overtime, are delaying service and threatening to slow the delivery of ballots. 

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, who has a history of undermining mail-in voting, indicated that he will neither approve emergency funding for the USPS nor provide supplemental funding for November's elections. Specifically, he told Fox News Thursday that he does not want to fund the USPS because he does not want American citizens to vote by mail. This position runs counter to experts who have concluded that weakening the USPS poses a threat to our democracy and public health. 

Despite this tumult at the federal level, Georgia’s and Wisconsin’s primary and runoff elections went smoothly this week, characterized by minimal wait times, properly functioning equipment, and no major difficulties when processing mail-in ballots. Elections officials indicated that they used the past few months to learn from other states in order to ensure everything was in place. These elections are shining examples of how this process can be successfully run during a pandemic. Every state should take the lessons provided by this spring’s elections.

Arkansas

Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued an executive order allowing Arkansans to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a valid excuse for voting absentee. Forty-two states will now allow anyone to vote absentee this fall. The executive order also allows election officials to start processing ballots a week earlier than usual, in anticipation of a higher-than-usual number of absentee ballots that are expected in November’s general election. 

Colorado

Secretary of State Jena Griswold defended the use of dropboxes for returning ballots against allegations that they are insecure. Drop boxes provide a safe, reliable option for voters to submit their ballots. 

Hawaii

Hawaii’s recent primary election was conducted entirely by mail, leading to a record number of ballots cast. Around 380,000 ballots were received, about 100,000 more than in Hawaii’s last primary election. 

Maryland

The Maryland Election Board unanimously voted to recommend that Maryland open 360 voting centers throughout the state on Election Day. Normally, Maryland has about 20,000 people working at 1,600 voting centers open for November's elections. However, this year, the state needs about 14,000 more poll workers to open all of the voting centers. 

Michigan

As Michigan prepares for the general election in November, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson expects that 3 million people will be voting by mail. Learning from the primaries, Benson said that clerks need more time to process ballots before Election Day to reduce delays. She also said that more election workers and resources will be needed.

New Jersey

Gov. Phil Murphy and top Democratic elected officials are in talks to implement early voting and shift to primarily mail-in ballots for November’s elections. Their stated goal is to reduce the size of election-day crowds to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

New York

By any account, New York’s primary was a disaster. As a response, the state legislature recently passed multiple elections-related bills, including provisions that would create more time to apply and receive mail-in ballots; speed up processing of mail-in ballot applications; and give voters a chance to fix technical issues with ballots. But these reforms need money and the governor’s signature, and time is running out.

Washington

Even states with excellent vote-by-mail systems are at risk from an underfunded USPS. Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman indicated she was concerned about the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle a surge of mail-in ballots in November as a result of U.S. Postmaster General’s cost cutting efforts. 

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U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

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U.S. PIRG is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.