To the editor:
Fair-minded people of both political parties acknowledge that as COVID-19 bears down upon us, we must plan alternatives to in-person voting in November’s elections. A repeat of Wisconsin’s debacle, with dedicated, masked citizens risking their health to exercise their most fundamental right, has been likened to the courage of Americans who risked personal safety to protest racial discrimination in the ‘60s. Many will be willing to take that kind of risk in November. But we can do more and better, at least in New York.
Senator Jen Metzger (D-Rosendale) has submitted a bill, S8120, that calls for immediate planning to provide Vote by Mail (VBM) to New Yorkers in November (it’s too late to implement for June 23 primary elections). VBM eliminates the cumbersome process tied to absentee ballots, in which one must request an absentee ballot application, which is returned by the Board of Elections; the completed application is returned to the BOE; the BOE sends an absentee ballot; once voters receive it, they complete and return to the BOE. With VBM the BOE sends a ballot to all registered voters; they fill out the ballot and return it to the BOE for counting. Done. Voting at polling sites will still be an option.
Yes, there are challenges. Security measures must be in place. Funding must be available to pay for new workers and post office charges. States that have implemented VBM have offered careful advice about how to proceed.
Perhaps above all, a massive public education effort is needed, starting now. Whether VBM or “temporary illness” absentee voting is ultimately implemented, voters need to know what to expect, long in advance of November. That effort will require money, staffing, and the use of all available tools for outreach. We shouldn’t have to be heroes to vote. Heroism will come from institutional support for our democratic system.