Washington, D.C. — As states move to expand voting by mail, a new joint publication from the Center for American Progress and the NAACP shows that in-person voting options must be preserved as well in order to prevent the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans.
Expanding opportunities to vote by mail is a critical, commonsense step that states should prioritize in order to help protect the health and safety of voters and poll workers alike. Unfortunately, some officials have coupled this call with efforts to reduce or even eliminate in-person polling places.
The CAP-NAACP analysis documents how eliminating or reducing in-person options would inadvertently disenfranchise many African American voters, voters with disabilities, American Indian and Alaska Native voters, and those who rely on same-day voter registration.
“Our vote is our voice, so it is essential that states take commonsense steps to protect Americans’ right to vote and protect their health,” said Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and co-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Voting Rights Task Force. “States that do not have vote by mail and no-excuse absentee voting should begin implementing those programs now. Vote by mail is especially important during times when Americans could be deterred from the polls for health reasons; but it is a good practice, and one that will serve us well, even after this crisis has passed. At the same time, states must take steps to ensure that our polling locations remain open and safe for voters, including by instituting in-person early voting and recruiting poll workers who are the least susceptible to the virus. Thank you to the Center for American Progress and the NAACP for shining a light on this critically important issue.”
The analysis shows:
- Black Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged by vote by mail, given that they have higher move and homeless rates and are some of the least likely Americans to use vote-by-mail options.
- Some voters with disabilities require in-person accommodations.
- People living on tribal lands may not have access to reliable postal service.
- In-person voting options are necessary for voters using same-day voter registration.
“While vote by mail is a convenient option for many Americans, it does not work for everyone,” said Danielle Root, associate director of voting rights and access to justice at CAP and co-author of the report. “This is why in-person voting options, including early voting, must be preserved in any vote-by-mail system. Vote by mail cannot be implemented in a vacuum; to be truly successful it must be paired with numerous other policies, including those that expand voter registration and ensure that all voters can cast ballots that count.”
“If we are to have safe and inclusive elections, we must implement multiple measures to ensure that all communities have unfettered access to the ballot box amid COVID-19,” said Yumeka Rushing, chief strategy officer at the NAACP. “Vote by mail is one option, but it cannot be the only option. States and municipalities must think expansively and critically about how they can engage citizens, increase participation, and ensure their safety in these unprecedented times. If we start now, we can protect our people and protect our democracy.”
The analysis recommends that expanded vote by mail be coupled with other policies to encourage voting, including:
- Online voter registration
- Same-day voter registration
- Ballot-tracking programs
- Nondiscriminatory signature verification requirements
- No onerous requirements for absentee ballots
- Robust voter education
Read the column: “In Expanding Vote by Mail, States Must Maintain In-Person Voting Options During the Coronavirus Pandemic” by Danielle Root, Danyelle Solomon, Rebecca Cokley, Tori O’Neal, Jamal R. Watkins, and Dominik Whitehead.
To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.
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