Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Amateur Hour- Voting During Coronavirus

Wisconsin’s presidential primary elections- and a state supreme court justice race- were held on Tuesday April 7th in the midst of stay-at-home orders. These are the first statewide races in the US since primaries in Florida, Arizona and Illinois on March 17th. Some commentators have related local COVID-19 outbreaks to in-person voting during the March 17th primaries, but the medical community has not agreed with this hypothesis.  

In Wisconsin, many citizens relied on in-person voting, and waited with face masks in social-distanced lines. For health reasons, most poll workers – predominately elderly volunteers- stayed home, closing most polling places in Milwaukee and Green Bay. Long lines were observed in these cities, perhaps because many absentee ballots were not mailed to voters on time. Absentee voters had to find a witness to sign their ballot and envelope, and some citizens were reluctant to come out of self-isolation to meet this requirement. Results will be tabulated after April 13th, which will reveal voter participation and turnout rates by city and county. There is a good chance that the media will declare this fairly low-stakes vote a spoiled election. These kinks- make that structural flaws- need to be addressed well ahead of the November elections, and preferably before the April 7th results are finalized. Don’t take Wisconsin to the whipping post over this; the state is only a messenger of situations across the country, yet to come.

My city, Norfolk, Virginia, will be holding local elections on May 5th. The Office of Elections recommends that citizens apply for an absentee ballot. The approved steps for requesting an absentee ballot in light of COVID-19 is a workaround, using the existing vote-by-mail request. Social-distancing absentee voters will swear or affirm, under felony penalty for making willfully false material statements, that “I have a reason or condition that prevents me from going to the polls on Election Day”, that condition being “my disability or illness”. If this doesn’t count as voter discouragement, tell me.  Because of how state laws on absentee voting are written, the use of workarounds like this will be common across the country.  

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