As we lead up to the 2020 election, Spectator’s new series, The Student Vote, will continue to highlight perspectives from students between the ages of 18 to 24 regarding candidates, policy issues, and more. Follow our editorial pages for more content like this.
The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted and shifted our lives in a multitude of ways. Online classes and other methods of social distancing have completely revolutionized the way we connect to one another.
One critical difference you may not have considered is the way that COVID-19 changes voting plans. Voting ease and accessibility in the United States, including accessibility for students, has always been a major debate, but this pandemic has changed the already contentious conversation, as voters now not only have to deal with policies that make voting difficult but in some cases are even being asked to put their health and the health of others at risk. Last Tuesday’s primary election in Wisconsin demonstrated the repercussions of not changing election laws during a pandemic: Many polling places were forced to close due to a lack of workers, thousands of voters didn’t receive their absentee ballots, and those who voted in person encountered long lines.
Now more than ever, we need to make the case for vote-by-mail. Even though many states are delaying their primaries until June, there needs to be a system in place to support voters in the event that current social distancing and shelter-in-place measures stay in effect through the summer. Only five states have fully adopted vote-by-mail, where voters receive a ballot in the mail which they then fill out and mail back or drop off.
While all states have some provision that allows for a mail-in vote, there are 16 states that discourage it, including New York, which is home to the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world. In these states, absentee ballots must be requested by the voter along with an affidavit giving a reason for not being able to vote in person. Under current stipulations, in certain states such as Texas, it is unclear if a generally healthy person can receive an absentee ballot if they choose to remain at home to avoid contracting the coronavirus. There are currently various laws being deliberated in state legislatures across the country to expand absentee voting or institute vote-by-mail, even as a temporary measure. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced that any New York voter will be allowed to request an absentee ballot in the June primary.
These changes will undoubtedly impact the voting plans of many college students. As college students, we already have the lowest voter turnout rate of any age demographic. After having to pack up our dorms in a matter of days, our housing and voting plans have been completely altered. Now is the time to create a new plan of action, pay attention to changes in voting measures, and advocate for changes so that you are able to exercise your right to vote amid this crisis. If an absentee ballot was headed to your Wein or Altschul mailbox, it may not be forwarded to your new address in time, and you may have to request a new one.
This time of uncertainty, chaos, and isolation is an opportunity to come together and mobilize. Many events and campaigns are rapidly transitioning to virtual platforms, which gives us the chance to engage and share them with others. Now that some of us have an abundance of time, use it to look at who will be on your ballot, join virtual organizing groups, call your member of Congress, research causes that you care about, learn how to aid local community efforts, and, of course, please vote.
Katie Petersen is a sophomore at Barnard majoring in political science and the president of ColumbiaVotes. To register to vote, request an absentee ballot, request an absentee ballot to a new address, check your primary date, or check your voter registration status go to www.vote.org. For state by state voting and COVID-19 information, go to vote.org/covid-19/.
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