A positive pandemic development might be long-term election reform

by Pete Mazzaccaro
Posted 9/24/20

The upcoming election is about to face a significant stress test.  

The primary stressor is the lingering Covid-19 pandemic, which is still spreading across the country and also has experts …

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A positive pandemic development might be long-term election reform

Posted

The upcoming election is about to face a significant stress test.  

The primary stressor is the lingering Covid-19 pandemic, which is still spreading across the country and also has experts wary of a resurgence as cooling autumn temperatures force people to begin gathering again indoors. Voting in person at indoor polling places carries an unusual risk. It’s a risk that not only has voters worried but poll workers, the invaluable volunteers who make election day happen by manning voting machines, checking in voters and more.

The second is the repeated rhetoric of the Trump Administration, which has forcefully denounced mail-in ballots, without evidence, as a major vulnerability to voter fraud. Mail-in balloting is one of several early voting methods that many states have expanded in response to Covid-19 fears.

Both factors have cast a considerable amount of doubt on the nation’s ability to carry out a fair election. Pennsylvania has expanded mail in voting this year, allowing anyone who requests a ballot to receive one regardless of reason. But much of the state is going even further with an expansion of early voting that provides the opportunity to vote in person at designated early voting locations. Philadelphia plans to open 17 such early voting stations that will be open seven days a week after Sept. 29 and will also allow people to register and vote that day. Montgomery County and others in the Philadelphia region have similar plans in the works. (The closest planned Philly locations to Chestnut Hill will be Roxborough High School and the A.B. Day School at 6324 Crittenden Street.)

Those early voting stations will likely be met enthusiastically by a public that is wary of mail-in balloting but still wants to vote early. A recent Washington Post poll found that roughly 60% of voters plan to vote early, yet only 30% said they are confident mail-in ballots would be counted accurately. People want to vote early and in a way that they trust. Virginia opened similar early voting stations last week, and voters formed long lines to vote in person as soon as they could.

The creative thinking to deal with holding an election in a pandemic should really get us all to consider what sort of reforms our electoral process really needs. Early voting is one of many. For a nation that can lay claim to the founding of liberal democracy, the number of voting-age citizens who actually do so trails other democracies by large margins.

A Pew study found that only 55.7% of voting-ages Americans participated in the 2016 election. It’s a rate that places the U.S. far behind 25 other industrialized nations in the study. Our continental neighbors Mexico and Canada have voter- age turnout rates of greater than 60%.

We can and should do better.

Making it easier for Americans to vote should be a foundational reform effort that members of both political parties support. Our present system makes voting difficult for many who work or have trouble making it to polls. For a government to be truly by the people for the people, everyone who qualifies and has the desire should have franchise.  

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