We’re living in the age of social distancing, lockdowns, and quarantine. But it’s also an election year. When voting is both our Constitutional duty and a threat to our health, how do we find balance?
As COVID-19 spreads, election officials face a difficult set of priorities: keep poll workers and voters safe while protecting the democratic process. Every state has responded differently as every American wonders about the implications of the safety of November’s Presidential Election.
16 States Postponed Primaries For Fear of COVID-19
A total of 16 stats have postponed their election primaries in response to COVID-19 outbreak. These states include Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Wyoming and Hawaii are among the states voting entirely by mail to prevent any further COVID-19 complications. Others, like Pennsylvania and Delaware, are voting in June instead. Even the Democratic National Convention has been postponed from July 13-16 to the week of August 17 to allow states more time to submit their voting results.
Arizona, Florida, and Illinois Forged Ahead in March
Ariona, Florida, and Illinois stood apart from the other 16 states when they chose to proceed with their primary contests on March 17 as planned. Turnout was lower than expected in many cities in Illinois, but more voters showed up in Florida and Arizona than in 2016. Early voting and voting by mail helped alleviate large crowds on Primary Day as well.
Election officials did their best to address potential issues, including a higher percentage of poll workers cancelling their shifts. A 10 percent cancellation is common, but many counties experienced a call of rate of 20 to 25 percent instead. They tackled this issue by asking young, healthy people, such as college students, to work the polls instead.
Wisconsin Votes In the Midst of Pandemic
Unlike Arizona, Florida, and Illinois, which voted in mid-March before the full force of the COVID-19 hit the U.S, Wisconsin voted on April 7. Though Wisconsin Democrats sought to extend absentee voting or postpone the election entirely, the Republicans blocked their attempts in court.
Despite the fear of COVID-19, many polling locations had lines that stretched for blocks. Voters protected themselves and others with face masks, many poll workers wore hazmat suits, and social distancing was enforced in long lines as much as possible. Poll workers were also trained in proper equipment cleaning and hand washing techniques.
Though every state approached voting differently, they all agree on one bottom line: this emergency underscores the need for preparation for administering the general election in November. “States will learn a lot from what happened this winter and spring, and they have time and will have more resources to make alternative planning for the fall,” explained Barry Burden, the director of Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Nobody can predict if COVID-19 will strike again in the autumn, but if it does, states must be ready.