Coronavirus presents a challenge for citizens to exercise their right to vote in our democracy while not violating the current Executive Order to shelter in place that seeks to flatten the curve. Polling stations are typically filled with many poll workers, poll watchers, and other volunteers who are majority aged over 60. And in a presidential election year, we can expect to see a high voter turnout of over 4.5 million voters in the November General Election and over two million for the June Primary Election. With millions of voters going to the voting booths, the repeated exposure over the course of a day puts our county election workers and all voters at risk for spreading and contracting coronavirus. Given the physical distancing that must be implemented, we cannot disinfect the voting equipment between each voter enough to handle the volume of voters that is typical of elections past. Because among the population most at risk by coronavirus are seniors, we need to plan for much lower staffing for our elections, mainly at polling stations.
Recommendations – Updates in brackets – 5/18/20
Six states currently hold their elections by vote by mail (every registered voter is automatically sent a ballot without a need to apply) and we can employ strategies that have shown to work and benefit voters and election workers. We must promote Vote By Mail as a safe option because voting from home eliminates in-person congregation and exposure. We must plan for staffing, purchase high speed scanners, give election workers more time, and streamline and centralize the printing process needed to handle the vote by mail ballot volume. Given the time constraint, our recommendations are focused on the critical things needed for the 2020 elections that would both mitigate against the further spread of coronavirus and also provide maximum access to all voters.
Please note that the recommendations are “nothing new” in that these are already in existence and successfully implemented in other states. Many states have existing legislative language that can be used and adapted for New Jersey. Many researchers have deemed the state of Colorado to be the model state for conducting the most inclusive elections yielding high voter participation. Some of the statutes can be found here and here.
- Promote VBM (Done!)
- Secure Equipment (Partially done)
- Increase Ballot Processing Time (On the back end only)
- Centralize BRM Permit (Pretty much!)
- Update Voter File (Nada)
- Provide Funding (Nothing explicitly stated, but the State will pay for it)
- Provide Ballot Tracking Portal (Yes, but needs to be robust)
- Install Ballot Drop Boxes (Yes, but not nearly enough)
- Mitigate In-Person Voting (Yes!)
- Expand Early Voting (Nope. We still need this.)