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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 White House continues to rail against vote-by-mail, but many state Republican leaders support it and are still trying to get their voters to cast absentee ballots. Democratic groups also launched a new effort to push back against President Trump and his allies’ claims that voting by mail leads to widespread election fraud. On that front, yet another analysis out this week from the Washington Post and Electronic Registration Information Center found “minuscule” examples of vote by mail fraud in the states that conduct their elections by mail. Study after study comes to the same conclusion.

Like in 2016, foreign actors continue to threaten our elections, and our voting systems still feature various vulnerabilities. States should continue to resist temptations to move election systems to new, insecure online systems, and instead stick with ramping up voting by mail while maintaining sufficient in-person locations to prevent crowding.

Because of COVID-19, we’re seeing declines in voter registration. A new study out this week found that in 11 states, the number of new voters registered in April 2020 decreased by 70 percent compared to the same time frame in 2016. With the virus preventing in-person activities, including on-campus voter registration drives, states must give voters online options and ensure that there’s robust communication to voters explaining how to register.  

Also because of COVID-19, absentee voting is “skyrocketing,” from Indiana to New Mexico.

Tuesday’s Primary Elections

By now, I’m sure you’ve read or written about the Georgia voting fiasco. From hours-long lines to malfunctioning voting machines, a lot went wrong, and it’s unacceptable that many Georgia voters were likely disenfranchised. Even though the secretary of state mailed absentee ballot requests to all eligible voters, many complained that their ballot never arrived, leading in part to the long lines at limited polling places. These issues must immediately be addressed for November. Any voter who wants to should be able to vote from home with an absentee ballot, but the state must also open sufficient polling locations to avoid crowding. On the positive side, the state set an absentee voting record, with a more-than-2,500-percent increase in absentee ballots submitted, split evenly among the two parties.

Nevada’s primary election also featured long lines, due to limited polling locations and even though Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske mailed every active voter in the state a ballot. Clark County, home to Las Vegas and more than seven-in-10 of the state's voters, went a step further and mailed ballots to voters labeled as “inactive” after national Democrats filed a lawsuit. This reinforces the need to give voters the option of voting from home, but also maintain in-person locations.

Pennsylvania

Votes are still being tallied for Pennsylvania’s primary election, which was held on June 2. The reason? A 17-fold increase in mail-in ballots. State officials are rightfully sounding the alarm, not because it’s taking a long time to count the ballots, but because they want everyone to start setting their expectations in November that we likely won’t know the winner on Election Night.

Tennessee

A court ruling handed down last week opens the door for every Tennessee voter to be able to request an absentee ballot for upcoming elections. Before the ruling, the state was an “excuse required” absentee state, and more voters than ever were already requesting absentee ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wisconsin

Learning from the mistakes of its spring election, where there were only five voting sites, Milwaukee is recruiting younger poll workers so that it can open many more polling locations for the November election. While the state is working to send all registered voters an absentee ballot application, opening more sanitized and socially-distant polling locations will help to ensure that crowding won’t be an issue.

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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 getting things done.