The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted our way of life and has led to many changes in society, such as the imposition of social distancing and self-isolation around the world. Despite this, in various states such as Wisconsin, elections still continue to take place. This will force many U.S. citizens to decide between their right to vote and their health.
With the many complications brought about by the pandemic, voting under these circumstances will certainly lead to an improper election with unreliable results. Holding the election amid this pandemic is dangerous as it jeopardizes the health and safety of the voting population. Voter turnout is likely to be low, as many across the country are exercising social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. This disenfranchisement is especially applicable to at-risk populations, including the elderly. Low socioeconomic communities that have been severely impacted by the virus will be left unable to vote. The exclusion of these voter demographics can sway the outcome of an election, which is especially worrying, as the presidential primary is fast approaching.
Furthermore, precautionary measures will surely extend the time required to vote in person and as polling places are faced with long lines,it could potentially reduce voter turnout further. Some polling locations may even be forced to close down due to the pandemic. In Wisconsin’s recent election, just five of 180 polling sites remained open in the state capital of Milwaukee, forcing voters who hadn’t already cast absentee ballots to wait in lines for hours. Meanwhile parts of the state that were less affected by COVID-19 reported shorter lines and open polling locations.
Regardless of which candidates and party claim victory, the results will likely be denounced as illegitimate, with a majority of criticism being attributed to poor polling conditions. Besides the fact that contested election results slow down and complicate the election process, bipartisanship and faith in the system will also be affected, with many questioning the legitimacy of the vote. Wisconsin voters were already left anxious with the Republican victory at the end of their elections. In addition, measures to address this distrust for the results, such as reconducting the election or recounting the votes, will be considerably difficult, given the time required and political opposition.
Despite the aforementioned difficulties, it is still the responsibility of the U.S. government and other U.S. institutions to adjust to these conditions. There are alternatives to the current method of standing in line to deliver one’s ballot, such as online voting systems, absentee voting and mail in ballots. The election could also be postponed temporarily.
However, it is important to acknowledge that these solutions are not easy to implement. Online or mobile voting was previously tested and lambasted for being easily susceptible to electoral fraud. The implementation of absentee voting, or simply postponing the elections entirely, would likely resolve many of these issues, however, doing so may be tough. In Wisconsin, lobbying unfortunately led to these elections being conducted despite Wisconsin Democrats wanting to extend absentee voting and even postpone the election altogether. Republicans in the state successfully blocked both proposals.
These obstacles should not stand in the way of developing a system to accommodate voters during this time period. Mail-in voting has shown its benefit in maintaining voter turnout in Florida and Arizona primary elections. While the system has its risks, with certain states not currently prepared for it, vote by mail is a simple, yet crucial reform that will ensure citizens of their right to vote during this crisis.
COVID-19 has undeniably impacted the way people live their lives, and various measures have been implemented to protect the citizens of this country. Even still, with the importance that elections for local and national government hold, measures must be taken to adjust our voting system to these adverse times. This is absolutely necessary in order to lead a fair and proper electoral process, elections whose weight will affect our futures beyond this pandemic.