The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the UCLA Voting Rights Project, and Voting Rights Lab (VRL) have released a report from medical experts, political scientists, and voting rights advocates entitled “Protecting Public Health in the 2020 Election.” The first-of-its-kind report brings together political science data with public health insights on the spread of COVID-19 to conclude that the safety of in-person voting during the 2020 elections depends on expanding absentee voting, eliminating polling place congestion, and reducing wait times at polling stations.
This report reviews existing medical literature on risk factors for COVID-19, political science research on congestion during voting, and evidence of the public health impacts of the 2020 primary elections to create urgent policy recommendations for the November general election.
The report analyzes the potential for COVID-19 to disproportionately impact communities of color in November. The analysis finds that Black voters are among the populations most at risk from COVID-19 infection and death, and are also more likely to experience longer lines, extended wait times, and poll crowding on Election Day.
The report concludes that it is essential to maintain in-person polling options during the pandemic, but in order to do it safely, states should:
• Increase absentee ballot access by allowing universal “no excuse” absentee voting and easing requirements for casting an absentee ballot.
• Spread out in-person voting opportunities by providing as many polling places as possible, extending early voting days and hours (including evening and weekend hours often utilized by voters of color), increasing the points of service at polling locations, reducing transaction time at polling locations, prioritizing in-person polling options where they are most needed (e.g. Native American reservations and communities with lower rates of absentee ballot usage), and ensuring full compliance with CDC best practices.
• Educate voters about changes by providing clear, accessible information on changes to the voting process (in multiple languages and accessible to individuals with all levels of literacy) and sending information via a variety of communication channels at different intervals.
“Our analysis with UCS and UCLA finds that this election isn’t going to impact all voters equally. Communities of color that have already been devastated by the pandemic are more likely to have to wait in long lines at polling locations,” said Megan Lewis, executive director of Voting Rights Lab. “Election officials in states across the country must act now to expand absentee voting, extend early voting periods, and increase the number of polling locations or they will risk exposing Black and Brown communities to unprecedented health risk during the 2020 general election.”