Voting in the Time of COVID-19

By Laura Walling, Senior Director of Government Relations, Goodwill Industries International

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote. Just over 55 years ago, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. I’ve always enjoyed the process of voting, reflecting on the sacrifices people have made so I can exercise my right, chatting with neighbors from my community, thanking poll workers and campaign staff, and of course receiving my “I voted” sticker. Obviously, this election year is going to be very different and millions of voters will likely turn to early voting or mail-in ballots in the coming months. Starting September 18, Minnesota and South Dakota will be the first states to allow voters to cast ballots early in person.

Many states are sending voter applications to receive ballots while several states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and DC) are automatically sending ballots to registered voters. Postal service delays are causing concern for those 32 states that require mail-in ballots to be received by Election Day. On September 4, North Carolina will be the first state to send out absentee ballots. All counties in Montana opted into universal vote-by-mail during the primaries and they can continue to do so for the general.

Several states currently require an excuse in order to submit an absentee ballot, including Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana and New York. Furthermore, 11 states require absentee ballots to be submitted with a copy of an ID, a witness signature, or be notarized – otherwise they may not be counted. The earlier cutoff dates to request absentee ballots are October 13 in Rhode Island and October 20 in New Mexico and Nevada.

Some election rules could still change. Litigation is underway in more than 30 states pertaining to mail voting, early voting, voter purges, polling places and other election issues.

The pandemic will not only impact how we vote this November, but it has also impacted the ability of nonprofits to engage in voter registration. Since the pandemic began, voter registration has plummeted, as the two most popular methods of signing up voters – third-party at schools and other public venues and “motor voter registration” – virtually halted.

Nonprofits are uniquely positioned to help ensure the people they serve are registered to vote and have they information they need to cast their ballot. NonprofitVOTE has resources for organizations who want to engage in these efforts in a nonpartisan manner.

As we celebrate the right to vote, the best way to honor the sacrifices made by those before us who fought for this right is to be informed of the election rules and regulations in your area, become knowledgeable of the candidates and their platforms, and cast your ballot.