UCLA Voting Rights Project Urges Congress And States To Consider A Universal Vote by Mail Program Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

White paper launched today raises voter turnout concerns for the November election amid the current public health crisis, particularly for underserved groups.

The UCLA Voting Rights project released a white paper today with recommendations for voting officials to begin planning now for the implementation of a vote by mail program for upcoming primary elections and, most importantly, the November General Election.

The impetus for the paper is to raise an early call to action for the ongoing concern that the novel coronavirus will affect turnout in upcoming elections given the large and persistent public health campaign encouraging the public to practice “social distancing.” The paper urges Congress to immediately provide funding and guidance for a national vote-by-mail effort as part of current relief proposals to help with the economic impacts of the coronavirus. If Congress fails to act, the paper calls on state and local officials to step in. The paper also seeks to highlight the low-health risks and general safety to the public that voting by mail provides during this national emergency.  

“States around the country are pushing back primary and runoff elections in the hope that election procedures can return to normal at a later time,” said Chad Dunn, co-founder of the UCLA Voting Rights Project and co-author of the report. “But hope is not a plan. We must prepare now to protect the fundamental right to vote.”

The UCLA Voting Rights Project is an advocacy project of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and is focused on voting rights litigation, research, policy and training. The report is the first comprehensive review of vote by mail laws, and it includes best practices on how to implement the measures most effectively and quickly. The report was made available to Congressional offices as coronavirus relief discussions are underway.

The white paper offers the following solutions to implement a universal vote-by-mail program by November:

Enroll voters immediately in a vote-by-mail program, allowing for an online registration option.

Provide a universal mail ballot and envelope to standardize the process and education efforts.

Work with the U.S. Postal Service to design a reliable and convenient program to return mail-in ballots.

Create security measures for vote-by-mail ballots.

Create a process for voters to address any issues with their vote-by-mail ballots so as to ensure all lawful votes are counted. 

Modify any in-person polling places to maintain social distancing and minimize public health concerns for at-risk populations.

Improve sanitation efforts at polling places to provide public health assurances for in-person voting.

Increase voter education efforts on reforms implemented.

Six states can take immediate action to move the November election to universal vote by mail because of existing programs: Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Utah and California. Further, the coronavirus pandemic provides a crucial opportunity to put benefits in place that will last beyond this election by reducing costs, making it easier to engage communities of color and voters with disabilities, and protecting elections from hacks or other tampering attempts, the report states. 

“The 2020 election could have record turnout for young voters and communities of color, groups that must be engaged in deciding the future of our country and on issues that affect our local communities,” said Matt Barreto, UCLA Voting Rights co-founder and co-author of the paper. “Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and vote-by-mail offers a solution to challenges that range from busy work schedules to global pandemics.”

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