March 17 is set to host primary presidential voting in four states. Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. As of this writing, Ohio has rescheduled its March 17 vote to June 2nd. Louisiana and Georgia have already postponed their vote from their original dates. Ohio Governor DeWine questions how we can be telling people to stay home to flatten the curve of covid-19 while asking them to vote at locations with large gatherings. DeWine is correct. Another thing Governors and state legislatures should consider are expanding the options of not having to vote in person. Vote by mail may be the answer.
Even with the assurance of safe polling sites and machines in the remaining states, the public concern may keep voters away. That concern is real and it is understandable. Without a certain end in sight of when “normalcy” will return, we must look seriously at removing barriers to voting in the upcoming general election.
North Dakota currently allows “no-excuse” vote by mail. You can find that information on the Secretary of State’s website. Rather than being an option allowed in certain states, should this become the norm? It is time we shift to primarily voting by mail where eligible voting residents receive their ballot in the mail. No need to request. Americans could think of this as a voting period rather than one day.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (a fantastic source for lawmakers and the public) breaks down the advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage? Better turnout. Not only in presidential elections, but local elections. Convenience goes a long way. In the current uncertain times of the covid-19 pandemic, that convenience and peace of mind may be a necessity.
It is important to note one of the disadvantages of vote by mail outlined by NCSL is to our Native American neighbors. Many do not have a street address or share a P.O. box. However, the voter ID settlement between ND and tribal nations may have resolved that concern. That is something the state and tribal leaders need to make certain.
Unprecedented times often call for unprecedented measures. Americans will be discussing those measures a lot over the days, weeks and months ahead. The measures will impact much of our daily lives. Yet, when it comes to making voting more convenient, this action isn’t unprecedented.
We are in the midst of an election year where concern about going out in public to fulfill duties is increasing. We must not let it prevent Americans from voting. It is time to vote by mail across America. Though the move may be out of necessity in 2020, it could have profound positive impacts on future elections.
The Ohio Health Director Amy Acton ordered the closing of polling locations to “avoid the imminent threat with a high probability of widespread exposure” of COVID-19.