We Need To Get Ready For Nationwide Mail-In Voting Under Coronavirus

A poll worker wearing a mask to help slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) sprays down a voting booth after use during the presidential primary election at Riverside High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. April 7, 2020. Mike De Sisti/Milwau
April 12, 2020 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Absentee Voting2020 ElectionWisconsinCoronavirusCOVID-19

We Need To Get Ready For Nationwide Mail-In Voting Under Coronavirus

We shouldn't have to choose between saving democracy and stopping coronavirus.


On Monday night, a last-minute intervention by the US Supreme Court effectively disenfranchised many of the Wisconsin voters who requested an absentee ballot to vote in the state’s April 7th election. The Court voted along party lines against allowing ballots to be mailed after Election Day, even if they arrived by the designated arrival date of April 13. This is problematic given that not all absentee ballots are expected to arrive at voters’ homes by Election Day, due to a dramatic COVID-19-driven increase in absentee ballot requests. Earlier on Monday, Republican state legislators had refused to move the election, and the Wisconsin state Supreme Court refused to let the Democratic governor move it single-handedly.

As a result, significant numbers of Wisconsin voters will have to either brave the pandemic or forgo their right to vote, unlike voters in Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wyoming — all states that moved their primary or switched to exclusive voting by mail. While the Democratic presidential primary appears to be effectively over, a state Supreme Court seat is at stake in Wisconsin, among various other state and local contests.


Both the organizational chaos and the public health threat make this an irresponsible way to run an election. It is of the utmost importance that the states prepare to avoid this kind of scenario in November by setting up the infrastructure required for voting by mail. In a recent policy brief , we explain the type of preparations involved, highlight Oregon’s two decades of experience, and address some common concerns about voting by mail. Overall, we conclude that the benefits easily outweigh the costs.

This article by Stan Veuger first appeared in AEIdeas on April 4, 2020.

Image: Reuters.