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Voting in the Time of COVID-19

In response to the current health crisis posed by COVID-19, BPC hosted an E-briefing with state and local election officials to dig into some of the major issues facing elections during the pandemic. Below are the main  topics discussed during the conversation. For greater detail, including answers to viewers questions, please see the video

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  • Florida hosted in-person voting during the pandemic. Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford noted that the last minute changing nature of the pandemic limited the state’s options. But voters will still use polling places this November, either during early voting and in-person Election Day voting. Election administrators must now consider what that looks like if certain voting locations are unavailable, if fewer poll workers volunteer, and whether the voters can maintain social distance while voting.
  • Some have suggested moving to all vote-by-mail for all voters. There will be an uptick in voting by mail in November. Oregon has been voting by mail exclusively since 1998. Oregon Director of Elections Steve Trout explained how the state got there and key investments made along the way, while also pointing out resource limitations for jurisdictions looking to expand quickly ahead of November 2020.
  • Vote by mail rates vary from the low single digits to 100% of a state’s electorate. Assistant Administrator of Elections for Wilson, County Tennessee Tammy Smith provided the perspective of a state that still requires voters to supply an excuse to access the vote by mail system. While the state allows voters over 60 to vote by mail, will others have that option? Tammy covered those questions while also explaining what a significant increase in voting by mail will look like in her office.
  • States can only do so much. Voter behavior is not so quick to change. Professor Charles Stewart, founding director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, noted that voters tend to be biased towards how they are used to voting. Voters in Oregon expect to vote by mail. Those in Tennessee expect to vote early. Just saying they will shift to mail may not happen so election administrators need to have a plan for in-person voting options.

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