Given the current COVID-19 situation across the country, a recent press release from Washington Monthly stated: The 2020 election is at risk. Short of significant reform, voter participation is expected to plummet.

The release further went on to say that polling places are “acutely susceptible” to community transmission as voters “… stand close together in lines and put their hands on doorknobs, pens, and even touch screens.”

However, the publication also indicated that such risk need not be the case. The solution? According to the ACLU, a number of states, as well as D.C., have vote-at-home without an excuse for all eligible voters—or they’re transitioning to it.

That said, rules can vary significantly. Washington Monthly elaborated: “There’s more we should do. We should demand universal access to voting by mail for all eligible voters. Elections officials should distribute absentee ballots to all eligible voters, or, at a minimum, eliminate unnecessary restrictions on when and how voters can request absentee ballots. States should eliminate laws that prohibit early processing of absentee ballots—so that states are able to report accurate results as early as possible. And we will fight to protect the rights of absentee voters, to make sure their ballots aren’t rejected without notice based on minor technicalities.”

Still Time for Change

Washington Monthly Digital Editor Eric Cortellessa recently explained that Utah “shows the way” with a “politically palatable route” to gradual reform that has been shown to be cheaper and easier to run. Voter turnout “spiked dramatically” in areas where fully implemented, and Utah transitioned smoothly to the new system and will be conducting its first statewide vote-at-home election this year.

More and more states are embracing an idea that could mitigate the problem. Universal vote by mail, otherwise known as vote-at-home, is a clear solution for states trying to run elections during the pandemic.

Cortellessa noted that, instead of mandating an all-mail election in one fell swoop, Utah first gave all voters the right to request absentee ballots, regardless of circumstance. Then it allowed counties to opt in to running their elections entirely by mail once they were ready.

There’s good reason for that: forcing counties to implement widespread systemic change when they don’t have the capacity inevitably results in logistical problems and political backlash.

As counties in Utah tried out vote-at-home, Cortellessa explained, election administrators quickly found the system much cheaper and easier to run. Voters fell in love with the ease of mailing in their ballots, and turnout spiked dramatically. Gradually, the rest of the state came to realize that vote-at-home was simply a superior system.

To that end, along with the other states already conducting their elections by mail, such as Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and now Hawaii, Utah is more prepared to run its election amid the coronavirus outbreak than the states that are still voting the old-fashioned way. In West Virginia, for instance, mail-in is permitted but an excuse is required, but in response to COVID-19 concerns, West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office (Mac Warner) is allowing ALL West Virginians to vote absentee (the Primary has been pushed to June 9, which may not be indicated yet within these link destinations). Learn more right here.

* Visit here to view and print the absentee ballot application OR call your County Clerk’s office to request an application be sent to you (find your County Clerk’s office number here).

Perhaps by following the Utah playbook and allowing localities to opt in, the rest of America can save our elections while slowing the spread of the virus.

For more information, click here.

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