COVID-19 Special Coverage
Rights group recommends legal and policy changes for elections during pandemic
© WikiMedia (Tom Arthur)
Rights group recommends legal and policy changes for elections during pandemic

National nonpartisan legal advocacy group Free Speech for People published a guide on Tuesday that outlines four legal and policy changes states should make to ensure a “safe, accessible, and trustworthy election” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although some states have already postponed primary elections, Free Speech for People stressed that “elections—the foundation of our democracy—must be held, and we must make legal and policy changes now to ensure a safe, accessible, and trustworthy election in November.” However, because many aspects of common voting processes in the US pose a “high risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus,” Free Speech for People encouraged several changes to the polling process.

The advocacy group encouraged states to give all voters the opportunity to vote by mail, or to complete the ballot at home and deposit them at a drop-off location; minimize person-to-person contact at the polls; minimize contact with commonly-used surfaces when voting; and carefully choose the location and staffing of polling places.

Because it may not be possible for every person to vote by mail, Free Speech for People suggested minimizing person-to-person contact at the polls by expanding early voting, increasing the number of polling places and configuring polling places to allow for six feet in between all voters and poll workers. This may include “curbside voting,” in which individuals vote without leaving their cars.

To minimize contact with commonly-used surfaces, states should minimize voting machines and disinfect all voter-related equipment. Free Speech for People encouraged the use of paper ballots as safer and less likely to transmit the virus than voting machines. Additionally, poll workers should wear masks and gloves, and there should be hand sanitizer made available throughout the polling places.

To protect the most vulnerable populations, including the elderly, states are encouraged to carefully arrange the location and staffing of polling places. This includes moving polling sites away from senior centers or residential facilities.

Free Speech for People recommended that election officials begin implementing these procedures immediately.

For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.