2020 is a watershed moment in American politics. With a record number of women running for Congress, six Senate races that are currently deemed a toss-up, and a highly divisive Presidential election, protecting and ensuring every American’s right to vote is crucial, but has never been more difficult.
COVID-19 has made in-person voting a challenge and risk for many Americans. Coronavirus cases in the United States continue to rise and Dr. Anthony Fauci has cautioned that spread of the virus will likely worsen this fall. The safety of our communities relies on every American making an effort to socially distance and wear a mask to protect those around them. Unless officials make significant changes to state election systems ahead of November’s election – only 97 days away – Americans who vote or serve as election workers will be at higher risk of infection. Whenever possible, voting in person should be avoided this year, and in person polling places should only be used by those for whom voting by mail is not possible, including those without access to reliable postal service.
Voting by mail, a secure and efficient way to cast your ballot, is the safest way to vote this year. Panorama is based in Washington, one of the five states that already runs universal vote by mail elections, along with Colorado, Hawaii, Utah and Oregon. Despite the fear and misinformation that vote by mail systems lead to fraud, there is no evidence that vote by mail results in election or voter fraud. Vote by mail also does not historically benefit one party over the other and increases the voter turnout rate overall. Both historically conservative and liberal states have implemented vote by mail systems with success and in 2018, 27% of voters voted by mail.
A full vote at home or vote by mail program, such as the system proposed by Vote at Home would automatically mail every eligible and registered voter a ballot and gives voters the flexibility to decide how to cast their ballot: by mail, at a secure drop-off location, or in person at a staffed voting center. This flexibility ensures maximum voter participation. Francine Tran, a Senior Project Manager at Panorama, describes how California’s vote by mail system offered her “the flexibility to research each candidate or proposition as I cast my vote.” She says the convenience of voting in her own time encouraged her to vote because there wasn’t the additional barrier of taking time out of her day to visit a polling place. After recently moving to Washington, she is grateful to have the same flexibility she enjoyed in California, especially this year.
“I don't need to worry about making a choice between my health and my voting rights.” – Francine Tran, Senior Project Manager, Panorama
Many state primaries this year have already showed us why all states must prepare for a general election during a pandemic. In Wisconsin, the April election was plagued by indecision and the results at the polls were chaotic and unsafe. At least 52 cases of COVID-19 were tied to in-person voting. The closures of 177 of the 182 polling locations in Milwaukee led to long lines to vote and crowding around polls. Georgia’s primary election was moved from March to June and the election faced similar challenges. Many voters’ absentee ballots simply never arrived, and they were forced to vote in person. Some voters waited in line until last midnight to cast their ballots. We can prevent this chaos and danger by investing heavily in vote by mail systems this year.
We need a federal investment to aid states with limited vote by mail infrastructure prepare for a successful vote by mail program in November. Many of us here in Washington have taken our robust vote by mail system for granted until this year, seeing the tremendous value and protection it offers – both to our health and to our civic participation. But without federal funding, many other states have and will continue to struggle to implement complex and expensive vote by mail programs. In New York, many mail-in ballots simply never arrived. I requested my mail in ballot three weeks before New York’s June primary election day. On the last day of early vote, the Sunday before Election Day, my ballot still had not arrived and I chose to vote early in person to ensure my civic participation. My ballot arrived the Wednesday after Election Day.
The Brennan Center for Justice has proposed a $4 billion package to ensure voter safety amidst the coronavirus pandemic including investment in both vote by mail, safe in person voting, and public education about how to vote safely. This level of investment as well as a voter participation in vote by mail programs is the most efficient way to guarantee the safety of voters this November.
At Panorama, we are committed to increasing voter turnout this November to ensure we have leaders at local, state, and national levels focused on making the substantive structural changes that we need in this country. We believe that everyone should be able to cast their vote safely and effectively. Today, is the inaugural National Vote by Mail Day of Action. Today, make sure you register to vote, verify that you are still registered, get your absentee ballot, and join Panorama in supporting these organizations that are working especially hard in this critical year for our democracy:
All In Together: Encourages, equips, educates, and empowers voting-age women to participate fully in America’s civic and political life.
Election Reformers Network: A nonpartisan donor cooperative supporting democracy reform initiatives in the United States with a mission to advance nonpartisan reforms addressing significant problems in U.S. democracy.
When We All Vote: A nonpartisan organization that is on a mission to increase participation in every election and close the race and age voting gap by changing the culture around voting, harnessing grassroots energy, and through strategic partnerships to reach every American.
Vote at Home: A nonpartisan organization dedicated to expanding convenient voting options for all voters, ensuring the security of our elections, and putting voters' needs first.