Published in The Fulcrum, April 14, 2020
Regrettably, the bipartisan cooperation that enabled last month’s $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package fell short when it came to addressing concerns about coronavirus and elections.
Congress did allocate $400 million for state election preparation, but proposals to require more voting by mail and early in-person voting met with partisan rancor. And President Trump has now acknowledged the underlying political calculus: Republicans win more often when fewer people vote.
Last week’s footage of Wisconsinites risking virus exposure to go to the polls dramatically illustrated the impact of that strategy, and those images perhaps will nudge the GOP position. Trump seems to have moderated somewhat, tweeting that absentee voting “is a great way to vote for seniors, military, and others who can’t get to the polls.”
Finding common ground on these processes that public health officials uniformly recommend would be a great sign that our leaders can rise above politics in a time of crisis.
But even without such leadership, vote-by-mail and absentee balloting will likely increase significantly for November, with much of that increase coming in states unaccustomed to handing these processes at scale. Election administrators across the country are gearing up for that challenge.
One way Congress can help that shouldn’t be divisive is to give the states more time on the backend, for the stages that happen after elections.
As many have commented, we should not countenance a postponement of Election Day, which is Nov. 3 this year. But we tend to forget important dates after Election Day that have been set by antiquated federal law, not the Constitution, and that Congress can change for the better.