Leonhardt on Protecting the Vote

View in browser|nytimes.com
Continue reading the main story

March 18, 2020

By David Leonhardt
Opinion Columnist
Congress will almost certainly pass a very large stimulus bill soon — as it should, because the economy is in crisis. But there is another looming crisis, in addition to the recession and the public health crisis, and it’s one that Congress should be taking as seriously as the economy.

Our usual methods for conducting elections may not work in November.

Yesterday’s postponed primary in Ohio, which is the subject of a legal fight, highlights the problems. Come November, people may still not be able to gather safely at polling places, and election workers — many of them elderly — may not be able to interact safely with hundreds of people. That’s terribly worrisome. As Seth Masket of the University of Denver has pointed out, elections are an essential institution in a democracy, much as grocery stores are.

Fortunately, House Democrats have the political leverage to fix the problem, even if President Trump and congressional Republicans don’t feel the same urgency. (Republicans, alas, have spent more time restricting voting rights in recent years than protecting them.)

Here’s what Democrats can do: Refuse to pass any big stimulus bill unless it includes provisions to ensure that the country can hold a presidential election this fall. That may sound like bare-knuckle politics, but preserving democracy calls for toughness.

Continue reading the main story
ADVERTISEMENT

Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, put it well in a message to me on Tuesday:

Election bills are notoriously hard to get through Congress. And we don’t know when Congress will be able to meet again. The only way a congressionally mandated expansion of [voting access] for November’s elections is going to pass is if it is folded into one of the existing coronavirus bills needed to keep this country going during the crisis.
On Twitter, Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Election made a historical analogy:

Fighting coronavirus will take war-like mobilization of govt resources. But even during the Civil War & WWII, we still held elections. It’s essential that Congress mandate & provide funding for every state to adopt universal vote-by-mail so we don’t have a political crisis too.
The basics of a bill to protect the 2020 election are straightforward. It should require every state to allow both early voting (with drop-off ballots) and voting by mail, and it should include federal funding for a rapid switch to those systems in the coming months. About 30 states already allow something known as “no-excuse absentee voting,” which is essentially early voting. Another five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — conduct elections largely or entirely by mail.

Both systems work well, removing many of the hassles, like long waits in line, that can keep Americans from voting. Mail voting has been especially successful at increasing turnout, as I explained in a 2018 column. During a pandemic, voting by mail and early voting have the crucial added benefit of allowing people to cast a ballot with minimal human contact.

Continue reading the main story
ADVERTISEMENT

It’s true that there is one downside to early voting: The possibility that new information will emerge in the final few days of a campaign, after some people have already voted. But this downside is quite modest during a general election in our highly polarized country. Not many people will be changing their mind in the final few days. And during a national crisis, there are not perfect solutions to every problem.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden, both Democrats, have written a good starting-point bill. It would require all states to hold at least 20 days of early voting, as well as to allow anybody to request a mail-in ballot. The federal government would pay for the changeover, which would probably cost around $1 billion, relatively little compared with other emergency bills now being discussed.

There are still some technical details to address. I think that — for 2020 only — the bill should also mandate states to create drop-off boxes at polling places, where people could bring the ballot they requested by mail. This would reduce the number of completed ballots that might arrive after Election Day, because of postal delays. Hasen, the election law scholar, raises a couple of other issues, including steps to ensure ballot security, in a Slate column.

But all of these issues are manageable. The key is for Congress — ideally, Democrats and Republicans together — to act now to protect the country’s ability to hold a fair election this year.

Continue reading the main story
ADVERTISEMENT

For more …

In a Washington Post op-ed, Klobuchar and Wyden write: “Without federal action, Americans might have to choose between casting a ballot and protecting their health. That’s wrong, and we must take swift action to address the problem.”
The Brennan Center for Justice has issued a 10-page report with recommendations: “Large-scale preparation, backed by the concerted support of the government and the public, is needed immediately to ensure that the 2020 election is free, fair, accessible, and secure. We will need substantial modifications to our election procedures, substantial flexibility, and a substantial infusion of resources … ”
Hasen has just published a book, “Election Meltdown,” about the pre-virus threats to American democracy, including voter suppression and government incompetence.
The National Vote at Home Institute, an advocacy group for voting by mail, explains the advantages: “Voters get their ballot delivered to them weeks before Election Day, fill it out at their convenience, then return it either in-person or by mail. The system has proven to be highly secure, and engages more voters, while significantly lowering costs.”
Forward this newsletter to friends …
… and they can sign up for themselves here. It’s free and published every weekday, with help from my colleague Ian Prasad Philbrick.

DAVID’S MORNING NYT READ

I’m a Doctor in Britain. We’re Heading Into the Abyss.
How many people will die because we’ve been working on the brink of collapse for too long?
By Jessica Potter
I’m a Doctor in Italy. We Have Never Seen Anything Like This.
My country’s health care system may soon collapse.
By Marco Pavesi
THE FULL OPINION REPORT

Give Every American $2,000, Immediately
A consensus is building around the simple expedient of sending cash to every American. Politicians need to move quickly.
By The Editorial Board
The Era of Small Government Is Over
We’re going to have to reach much deeper than stimulus and bailouts into the way we conduct business with each other.
By Jamelle Bouie
Why the Coronavirus Is So Much Worse Than Sept. 11
We’re denied the solace of community just when we need it most.
By Frank Bruni
Our New Historical Divide: B.C. and A.C. — the World Before Corona and the World After
Here are some trends to watch.
By Thomas L. Friedman
Bring Back Big Government
America’s failed response to the coronavirus is a direct result of decades of starving federal agencies of expertise.
By Farhad Manjoo
Woody Allen Meets the Cancel Culture
Does it matter that you may never know his side of the story?
By Bret Stephens
They Went Off the Grid. They Came Back to the Coronavirus.
25 days rafting through the Grand Canyon meant no access to the news — and a new reality when the trip ended.
By Charlie Warzel
China’s Ill-Timed Attack on the Free Press
Reporting the truth is the only way to stop a global pandemic. Beijing just made that more difficult.
By The Editorial Board
How Racist Is Trump’s Republican Party?
And how do you determine that in the first place?
By Thomas B. Edsall
The World We Once Lived in Has Vanished
Even if we manage to defeat the coronavirus, that world will not return.
By Jennifer Finney Boylan
The Coronavirus Preys on Jews’ Biggest Strength
In the Persian Jewish community of Great Neck, N.Y., “social distancing is a wedding that only has 400 people.”
By Bari Weiss
Cancel. The. Olympics.
Amid a pandemic, it would be wildly irresponsible for the Games to go on.
By Jules Boykoff
It’s Time for the Business Community to Step Up
How our corporate leaders act now is critical to beating the coronavirus.
By Kenneth I. Chenault and Rachel Romer Carlson
How to Talk to Your Child About the Coronavirus
A psychologist offers tips tailored to age.
By Madeline Levine
The Coronavirus Is Here to Stay, So What Happens Next?
There may be two to four more rounds of social distancing before this is over. Here’s what to expect.
By Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Susan Ellenberg and Michael Levy

Protect our vote

Protecting our November election is vitally important. Tell your congressional representatives that it should be part of any stimulus bill that is passed.