Editorial: Plan now for secure vote in November

Los Angeles Times

In the days, weeks and months ahead, we can expect all sorts of dramatic disruptions as a result of the coronavirus sweeping the nation and the world. But one that Americans absolutely must begin thinking about and planning for right now is the threat the virus poses to our democratic process in a year in which voters will choose a president, a third of the U.S. Senate and the entire House of Representatives.

Several states have already postponed presidential primaries. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, and President Donald Trump as well, are already rethinking what it even means to campaign at a moment in time when voters can’t come out to rallies, debates must be held virtually and all discussion of issues from foreign policy to climate change to homelessness are subordinated to the one great concern on everyone’s mind.

Obviously — but shockingly nevertheless — there is also speculation that this summer’s party political conventions might have to be canceled or drastically scaled back.

But there is one political event that will and must go on as scheduled: the Nov. 3 general election. While prognostications about the spread — or hopefully the containment — of the pandemic are risky, it isn’t too early for Congress and state election officials to begin planning for an election that might have to be conducted under plague conditions.

The goal must be to ensure that fear of contracting COVID-19 (or transmitting it to others) won’t cause participation in the election to plummet. Even if, as we all hope, self-isolation and social distancing are no longer necessary in November, lingering concerns about contamination could easily depress turnout at traditional polling places.

That’s why a consensus has been growing that Congress and state election officials should think now about creative ways to allow voters to exercise the franchise on Nov. 3, including but not limited to a dramatic expansion of voting by mail.

It’s in the interest of both parties that this public health emergency doesn’t lead to a steep decline in voting on Election Day. Maximizing participation is important not only because voters have a right to cast their ballots without fear of becoming ill, but also because an election in which massive numbers of voters don’t take part can undermine the perceived legitimacy of the outcome.


Los Angeles Times

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