Washington, D.C. — More than 800 public health experts have signed a letter urging Congress to provide states with $4 billion so that they can expand access to vote by mail and ensure safe in-person voting. They say that the right to vote should not have to be sacrificed or compromised in order to ensure health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter was released today in conjunction with a conference call with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chris Coons (D-DE), who have led efforts to expand vote by mail and early voting across the country. Public health experts Gregg Gonsalves, a professor of epidemiology at Yale University, and Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington, both of whom signed the letter, also joined today’s call.
“The right to vote is an essential element of our democracy and Americans should not have to choose between their rights of citizenship and their own health,” says the letter from epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, scientists, and health care providers from around the country.
“Many of us in public health looked on with horror as thousands of people in Wisconsin were forced to choose between exercising their right to vote and staying home to protect themselves from exposure to the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2,” the letter continues. “Those choosing the former were imperiling their own lives by voting in person that day.”
To ensure the integrity of the electoral process and, at the same time, protect the public health, the letter says it’s critical for leaders to prepare for a significant increase in voting by mail, especially in the event of a new outbreak of COVID-19 in the fall, which many health experts warn is a likely scenario.
“If we act now, we can all vote without fear of acquiring or spreading COVID-19 as we exercise our fundamental democratic rights in November,” said Gonsalves.
The letter warns that unless lawmakers at state and federal levels take immediate action to bolster election systems, the turmoil and potentially deadly consequences seen in Wisconsin could occur across the country. The experts call on Congress to approve at least $4 billion so that states can prepare their election systems for expanded voting by mail and safe in-person voting.
“Americans are facing unprecedented disruptions to their daily lives and we need to make sure that in the midst of this pandemic, Americans don’t also lose their ability to vote,” Klobuchar said. “We must take critical steps to ensure that states have the resources they need to implement early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail programs. We should also act swiftly to pass my legislation to ensure that every American has a safe way to participate in our democracy during a national emergency.”
“As the more than 800 public health officials explain in their letter, we have to think about safety when it comes to our elections,” Coons said. “No one should be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote, and with experts warning that a second wave of COVID-19 this fall is increasingly likely, millions of Americans will be forced to make that untenable choice if we don’t act now. That’s why Senator Klobuchar and I are fighting to give states additional resources to expand vote-by-mail and early voting, and we are grateful to CAP and the public health officials on the call for shedding light on this critical issue.”
“It is very possible that older adults will still be asked to take precautions in November, and we need to make sure we are keeping them safe,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida who analyzes infectious disease outbreaks. “Elderly and immunocompromised Americans should not need to choose between their safety and their right to vote.”
“During a pandemic, requiring only in-person voting is fundamentally undemocratic because it places far higher costs of voting on high-risk individuals,” said Bergstrom. “Here in Washington state, counties have been voting by mail for years. It’s convenient, equitable, low-risk, and time-tested.”
As the recent Wisconsin primary showed, without major upgrades to election infrastructure, other states could be overwhelmed in November. Congress and states need to act quickly in order to be ready for November.
Click here to view the letter.
For more information or to talk to an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at gro.ssergorpnacirema@lenanahs or 202-478-6327.
To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.