Student PIRGs call on states to adopt emergency absentee voting

– For Immediate Release –

The continued spread of the coronavirus poses a real threat to our elections, not just through the primaries but into November. While many states have plans to deal with emergencies like power outages, natural disasters and other one-off situations, very few states are currently set up to successfully run an election where large public gatherings, such as polling places, present a public health risk.

While the coronavirus pandemic is a unique situation, it highlights a flaw in our current elections systems. A functional democracy depends on participation. If people are unable to safely get to polling places, states need to change their elections to accommodate the voters.

Fortunately a solution exists and, in some places, is already in use. In most states, if a person is unable to physically make it to the polls, they can request an absentee ballot be sent to their home. They can then vote at home and mail their ballot back to be counted.

The Student PIRGs call on every state to establish a system that would eliminate the need to physically go to the polls in the event of an emergency. Specifically, states should create emergency, universal absentee voting. This would allow all registered voters to be mailed an absentee ballot if physically visiting the polls were unsafe.

Successful implementation of emergency absentee voting would require states to have systems like online voter registration in place to ensure that all eligible voters receive ballots. Online voter registration is fast, efficient and resilient and is a system that states should have, regardless of circumstances. It would also likely require expanded infrastructure for counting absentee ballots.

When it comes to systems for voting, states have served as the laboratories of democracy. States like Oregon and Colorado that already have universal vote by mail and many other states allow people to automatically receive absentee ballots sent to their home. Systems and best practices exist to ensure the integrity of our elections. In challenging times, we can come together, share expertise, and ensure safe, successful elections.