As pandemic throws elections into chaos, advocates call for national vote-by-mail
Calls are growing for states to expand voting-by-mail options ahead of the November election as the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted in-person voting in primary elections across the country.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced a bill Monday that would mandate emergency mail-in-voting in all states and the Brennan Center for Justice recommended officials consider "a universal vote-by-mail option” as they respond to the crisis.
The progressive advocacy group Stand Up America, meanwhile, on Tuesday launched a six-figure campaign to pressure Congress to expand vote-by-mail options, the group told NBC News.
The group is running digital ads, sending text messages to the 400,000 people on its SMS list, and creating videos and other social media content to encourage Americans, many of whom are now stuck at home, to call their members of Congress. The campaign has generated about 17,400 calls to Congress within the first few hours.
Primary elections scheduled for Tuesday have created confusion and other issues, with Ohio abruptly closing its polls, despite a court order to the contrary, and Chicago election officials sparing with the state's governor over whether to keep election going as they reported extremely low turnout.
So far, in addition to Ohio, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Wyoming, Maryland and Kentucky have postponed their primaries or canceled in-person attendance.
Washington, the hardest-hit state by COVID-19 outbreak, was able to proceed with their primary last week in part because it votes entirely by mail, state officials said. The state is one of four — along with Oregon, Hawaii, and Colorado — that have transitioned entirely to mail-in balloting, while the vote-by-mail has increased across the country as more states provide it as an option to voters.
Advocates, who have long argued that sending ballots to voters increases participation in elections, say concerns about crowded places have made the need for remote voting more urgent than ever.