On Voting During a Pandemic

The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it. ~John Lewis in his final words to the nation, NYT op-ed

As long as young people are protesting in the streets, hoping real change takes hold, I’m hopeful but we cannot casually abandon them at the ballot box. Not when few elections have been as urgent, on so many levels, as this one. We cannot treat voting as an errand to run if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy. ~Barack Obama in his eulogy for John Lewis

We truly are living in perilous times, marked by a raging pandemic and dire economy worsened by an incompetent, corrupt, and increasingly totalitarian government. This cannot stand. Nor can such actions by the Trump administration as caging children; beating and gassing protesters; defending criminals like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone; embracing white supremacy; refusing to confront Russia for its bounties on American soldiers; engaging in acts to suppress the vote; and so much more that threatens our democracy.

The Republican Party has done nothing to stop Trump’s un-American, sometimes unlawful behavior. We must vote Trump and his Republican accomplices out on November 3rd. As Obama said, “few elections have been as urgent, on so many levels, as this one.” To protect our democracy we must vote them out.

Because the pandemic is unlikely to go away by election day, voting this time may take extra effort. We need to plan now. Below are six things to consider as you prepare to vote.   

1. Vote by mail. Five states mail registered voters ballots that they fill out and mail back: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. In 34 other states, plus D.C., voters can request an absentee ballot to receive and return by mail without needing an excuse. For the remaining states, you need an excuse, at least at this time. Fear of contracting Covid-19 may be an acceptable excuse. To learn about your state’s requirements for voting by mail, go to Vote.org. On this site you can see if you’re registered, register if you’re not, and find out how to request an absentee ballot in your state. Election Protection is another good site for voting information.  

2. Vote early. If you’re voting by mail, you should mail your ballot as soon as possible. The new Trump-appointed Postmaster General has implemented new procedures that may slow down the mail. Don’t take a chance that your ballot will arrive after the deadline. In 2016, millions of absentee ballots were rejected (approximately 1% of the 33.2 million ballots mailed in) due to not having a signature, a signature not matching the one in state records, a return envelope problem, or for missing the deadline. Carefully fill out the ballot, double check that you’ve done everything required, and mail early.

3. In-person voting. Let’s say you don’t want to take a chance with a mailed-in ballot. In some states, you can vote early. If you vote on election day (and even early), the lines may be long; you may have to wait for hours, depending on where you live. Note that many states have closed hundreds of polling places, often disproportionately affecting minorities, especially in Republican-led states (a clear attempt at voter suppression). Check to see if your polling place has changed. Wear your mask, bring hand sanitizer, and, if you expect long lines, consider taking extra water and snacks for those who wait near you – and extra masks for those who forgot theirs.

4. Stay in Line. If your polling place tries to close before you vote, stay in line. And immediately call the hotline administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) to report the attempted closure or any other improper or unusual polling incident. A polling place is required to stay open until everyone in line has voted. You can also call the hotline above for help of any kind about voting.

5. Provisional ballot. If your eligibility to vote is questioned at a polling place for any reason (for example, your name is not on the electoral roll or you don’t have an acceptable ID), you should be offered a provisional ballot, at least in most states. If they fail to offer you one, ask for one. And if that doesn’t work, call the hotline above for advice on what to do next.

 6. Strongly encourage your family and friends to vote. Remind them that this election is, without a doubt, the most important one of our lifetime. Of course, every election matters, whether local, state, or national. But this time we the voters will determine what kind of country we want to live in and want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.

Vote and help get out the vote!

All images from Creative Commons: “Respect My Vote” posted by SEIU International (Creative Commons: BY-NC-SA 2.0); “Vote!” shows the voting booths in the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

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