Free Speech For People Publishes Guide for Safe Voting During COVID-19 Pandemic

Free Speech For People published today a report entitled: “Safe Voting During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” in collaboration with Dr. Joia Mukherjee, a physician, clinical researcher, and educator trained in Infectious Disease, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and public health at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health, and Mark Ritchie, an election management expert, advisor to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and Minnesota’s Secretary of State from 2007-15. The report identifies voting machines themselves as possible vectors of infection in the novel coronavirus pandemic, and examines the consequences and possible remedies. While some states have already begun postponing primary elections, the guide outlines four legal and policy changes every state should make to ensure a safe, accessible, and trustworthy election.

The chaos preceding today’s Wisconsin primary proves how essential it is for state officials to proactively put in place modifications to ensure all voters can safely cast a ballot. The lines forming in Wisconsin cities today are evidence that we must provide other options for voters to prevent unnecessary contact and clustering which can accelerate COVID-19 infection.

The guide lists four main categories of legal and policy changes necessary for a safe, accessible, and trustworthy election in November:

  • Make vote-by-mail easy. All voters should have the opportunity to vote by mail, or to complete their ballots at home and drop them off at a drive-through or walk-through dropoff location. The processing of mail-in ballots must be handled in a way that protects poll workers from virus transmission.
  • Minimize person-to-person contact at polling places. Early voting should be expanded as much as feasible, to help limit the number of people who must vote on any one day, and the number of polling places should be increased. Voters should not be required to wait in long lines to vote. Polling places should be configured to allow at least six feet of distance between all voters and poll workers.
  • Minimize contact with commonly-used surfaces. Polling places should be designed to ensure that voters are not required to touch common surfaces that are not disinfected. All voting-related equipment must be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Paper ballots are safer than voting machines and less likely to spread the novel coronavirus because fewer people must handle each ballot. The use of voting machines should be absolutely minimized, and used by only those voters who require them for accessibility purposes.
  • Design and manage polling places to protect the most vulnerable populations. The location and staffing of polling sites should be carefully arranged to protect the most vulnerable populations, including older adults.

“Election officials should begin implementing these recommendations now, and continue to consult with public health experts to devise plans that limit transmission of the novel coronavirus without interfering with voters’ ability to cast their votes,” the authors write, “Our democracy demands no less.”

Read the full report for a detailed explanation for why each of these measures is necessary for ensuring a safe, accessible, and trustworthy election.

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