When it comes to administering elections during a public health emergency, there is no silver bullet. All states must be prepared for COVID-19 to disrupt elections in innumerable ways, even where officials take affirmative action to mitigate potential problems. Vote by mail and expanded in-person voting, including at least two weeks of early voting, are strong policies that will go a long way in protecting the right to vote while helping to ensure the health and safety of Americans voters and society at large.
But to implement these policies successfully and bolster election infrastructure to contend with a pandemic, states need support from Congress, as state budgets simply cannot cover all necessary costs. Although the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided states $400 million in emergency election funding, at least $3.6 billion more from Congress is needed to ensure all voters can safely participate in upcoming elections. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed on May 15, would provide states and localities with this essential funding.
The United States is running up against the clock to prepare for November’s general election. Unless Congress provides more emergency funding for elections immediately, countless Americans will be forced to choose between their health and the fundamental right to vote. This is especially true for voters residing in states hit hardest by the pandemic, which are now experiencing recent surges, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In those places, entire populations are at risk of further outbreaks if Congress fails in its duty to provide jurisdictions with sufficient resources for carrying out safe and inclusive elections this year.
Danielle Root is the associate director of voting rights and access to justice at the Center for American Progress.
To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.