As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, several states have begun preparations for vote-by-mail options in the 2020 election. (Blair Guild/The Washington Post)
AFTER A shambolic election two years ago — and several examples of poorly run primaries leading up to this week — one might have imagined that Georgia would have prepared better for its Tuesday primary vote. Instead, polling places in and around Atlanta were swamped and lines stretched for hours as poll workers struggled with new voting machines and sanitation procedures. Georgia’s experience confirmed that the coronavirus pandemic, combined with the sort of Election Day incompetence that has for years been a sad fixture of American democracy, threatens the integrity of the November presidential election. There is hardly anything more important than getting voting procedures and technology right over the next five months.
Unfortunately, many Republican politicians continue to manipulate voting rules for partisan advantage, exploiting the pandemic as an opportunity to suppress voting. The latest example is in Iowa. The state held a notably successful primary last Tuesday that smashed turnout records despite the closure of many polling places, in large part because the state’s Republican secretary of state sent every voter an absentee ballot application. That allowed local officials to consolidate in-person voting locations without causing the sorts of massive backups that marred primaries in Wisconsin, the District and Georgia.
Republican lawmakers in Iowa saw that success and apparently concluded that it should not be repeated. Just days after the primary, a state Senate committee advanced a bill that would bar the secretary of state from sending out absentee ballot applications to voters who have not requested them. Though voters in many states have complained that they never got the absentee ballots they requested, the Iowa legislation would make it harder for election officials to process absentee voter requests. It would also ban them from consolidating many polling places, even though the pandemic is likely to lead to a pressing shortage of poll workers and intensive pandemic precautions should be observed. The Des Moines Register points out that these moves come on top of the legislature’s probably illegal efforts to force felons to pay restitution before being able to vote.
To be sure, sending mail-in ballot applications to all voters and consolidating polling places do not guarantee a smooth Election Day. The District did both and still saw long lines, in part because officials closed too many locations. Georgia’s secretary of state sent out absentee ballot applications two months before the state’s primary, yet many voters still complained that they never received the mail-in ballots they asked for.
Even so, imagine how much worse the votes in the District and Georgia would have been if even fewer people had obtained mail-in ballots. And imagine how bad it could get if lots of poll workers refuse to show up to staff voting locations, forcing chaotic last-minute closures.
Democratic Party strategist and lawyer Marc Elias says that flaws in ballot design are often overlooked but have huge repercussions on elections. (Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)
If Republicans fear that more people voting hurts them — and President Trump has explicitly said this is the case — the honorable response is to change their candidates or their policies. Instead, the party seeks to impose more electoral disasters on people who should feel nothing but fed up.