Given how much has changed in the last few weeks, it’s impossible to predict what things will look like by Election Day. Even if we emerge from our homes and resume a new normal, there may still be public health directives that continue some forms of social distancing — whether it be staggering employees to work from the office on certain days or asking the elderly to continue sheltering in place.
In 2020, the stakes are too high to simply sit back and watch what will happen. Even before the pandemic hit, the election was already being considered by many a pivotal moment in our country’s history and a referendum on President Trump. Now that we are living through a global crisis akin to a massive depression or world war, the stakes are even higher.
This issue will require a multistate solution to enable voting by mail. The health of our democracy is as important as the health of our economy and now is the time for lawmakers to act with the same sense of urgency they showed with the $2 trillion stimulus bill.
But allowing for more absentee voting is not enough on its own. States need to give voting officials enough time to process absentee ballots before Election Day to avoid excessive delays. The rights of absentee voters must be protected so that ballots are not too easily disqualified. As with all changes in the election, a successful initiative would require a nationwide public education campaign to make sure voters understand how this option will work and encourage them to take advantage of what their state has to offer.
In the 1880s and 1890s, states adopted the “Australian ballot” to allow for voting in private rather than in public. African American men were granted suffrage in 1870, while women gained the right to vote in 1920. The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped bring an end to rampant discrimination against African American voters. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
We need to protect the vote in 2020 and make sure that turnout is as high as possible. If bold steps are taken now, elected officials can work to make sure that millions of Americans will have the opportunity to decide who should lead our country in 2021.
If our election becomes another victim of the pandemic, our government officials won’t have anyone to blame but themselves.