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COVID-19 and Voting Accessibility

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of voting accessibility, and particularly voting by mail, to the forefront. This issue is particularly important in this year of national elections. The League of Women Voters is supporting a Massachusetts bill that would ensure all registered voters receive a ballot, providing them the option of voting by mail in the September primary and the November general election.

Consideration of this legislation prompts us to look at the broader picture: how do we sustain and enhance the constitutional right to vote for all people? While this right was first held in the hands of a few propertied white males, our democracy has evolved and consolidated through years of racial and social justice struggles. And yet voting accessibility–making voting free, fair and easy for all–remains elusive. 

Providing the option to vote by mail advances the ideal of equity in voting- makes voting infinitely more accessible to all people—including those differently abled, those who can’t drive, people whose work schedules and circumstances make it impossible to get to the polls, and individuals who may be sick or hospitalized. Especially in the current context with COVID 19, filling out a ballot at home is a safer way to vote during the pandemic, but the same rationale also holds going forward, and not only for Massachusetts but for the whole country. In fact, some states have been providing this option for some time. According to writer and historian Heather Cox Richardson, “Currently, the states of Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah, as well as various counties in California, all have vote by mail. A mail-in system creates about a 2% increase in voting, but does not appear to benefit one party over another.”

No system is perfect. Voting by mail would not help individuals and families who are homeless and have no permanent address. But as this pandemic has shined a spotlight on the many inequities that exist in our country, strengthening our democracy by promoting equal access to voting is a critical step forward.

Making voting by mail the norm would significantly ameliorate the obstacles people face in states that have reduced the number of polling places and length of voting hours. Allegations of fraud have been raised, however the Brennan Center for Justice asserts that “Mail ballot fraud is incredibly rare, and legitimate security concerns can be easily addressed.” Legislating universally accessible voting across class, ability, socio-economic, and racial lines ensures that more of our fellow citizens’ voices are heard. 

The Network urges your support for House Bill H.4737 supporting Vote By Mail (VBM) and Federal legislative steps in this direction.

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