How COVID-19 is Changing American Democracy

COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, has dominated the headlines for the past few weeks. People across the country are practicing social distancing as doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, and countless others have put themselves on the front lines to combat this novel pandemic.

The way we practice democracy is also adjusting. Candidates for offices large and small have moved their campaigns online. Some states have postponed their primaries. These changes, particularly in a presidential election year, are myriad and, for some, drastically different. We’re here to break it all down (or at least some of it).

What are local, state, and federal officials doing?

On the federal level, the long-awaited $2 trillion stimulus bill includes $400 million to make voting safer for everyone involved. New measures would increase the ability to vote by mail, expand early voting and online registration, and increase the safety of voting in-person by providing additional voting facilities and poll workers.

State and local officials are going even further. Ohio, Maryland, and Wisconsin have proposed sending every registered voter an absentee ballot. Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming have already decided to go this route for their April primaries. Many states are considering expanding their absentee voting and vote by mail options. Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico have postponed their primaries in the wake of the virus.

These are good things, right?

Yes and no. It’s critical that we prioritize people’s health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic and do all we can to flatten the curve. That said, there are fears that these options don’t go far enough to protect voters from election-related threats.

Take the federal stimulus: $400 million is considerably less than what’s needed to alter voting systems nationwide. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, $2 billion would be needed to effectively cover vote by mail for every voter, improved online registration, in-person voting centers that meet public health standards, and public education on the changes.

On the state level, rules vary, and not all mail-in ballots are created equal. Some states have a history of rejecting absentee ballots for flimsy reasons. Election officials rejected over 430,000 absentee ballots in 2018 because they didn’t arrive in time to be counted, the voter didn’t provide a required signature, or the voter’s signature didn’t match the one on record. These rejections are far more common for voters of color. Meanwhile, for states with primaries in the very near future, it’s possible that absentee ballots can’t be distributed and returned in enough time.

In Louisiana and Kentucky, there’s a strong possibility that these changes will impact representation at the Democratic National Convention. Both states have rescheduled their primaries for after the DNC’s July 9th deadline and risk losing half of their delegates as a result.

What’s a Stamper to do?

COVID-19 has impacted just about every facet of daily life. As we adjust to the new normal, the best thing we can do is roll with the punches. At the same time, we should remain vocal about how these changes need to account for the flaws they exacerbate.

Above all, take a deep breath. From all of us at the Stamp Stampede, we hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy. We’ll get through this together and come out stronger.