Voting rights advocates affiliated with UCLA Monday pressed Congress and states to implement a universal vote-by-mail program for all upcoming primary elections and the November general election in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The UCLA Voting Rights Project issued a report raising concerns about voter turnout given the public health crisis and the call for social distancing.
“States around the country are pushing back primary and runoff elections in the hope that election procedures can return to normal at a later time,” said Chad Dunn, co-founder of the UCLA Voting Rights Project and co-author of the report. “But hope is not a plan. We must prepare now to protect the fundamental right to vote.”
The report urges Congress to immediately provide funding and a plan for a national vote-by-mail effort as part of current relief proposals related to the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“The 2020 election could have record turnout for young voters and communities of color, groups that must be engaged in deciding the future of our country and on issues that affect our local communities,” said Matt Barreto, UCLA Voting Rights co-founder and Dunn’s co-author. “Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and vote-by-mail offers a solution to challenges that range from busy work schedules to global pandemics.”
The report recommends enrolling voters immediately for vote-by-mail, setting up online registration, and creating a universal ballot to standardize the process and simplify educational outreach.
California and five other states — Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Utah — have existing programs that would allow them to move to universal vote-by-mail immediately, the report concluded.
Vote-by-mail also protects elections from tampering and makes it easier to engage with communities of color, according to the report, which pointed to long-lasting benefits of the shift.
The authors recommended that any in-person polling places be modified to accommodate the need for social distancing and disinfection.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla called on Los Angeles County earlier this month to automatically send vote-by-mail ballots to every voter in the county ahead of the November general election.
“Fifteen counties, including Los Angeles County, conducted their elections under the Voters Choice Act,” Padilla said in a statement. “In the 14 other Voters Choice Act counties, every voter received their ballot by mail 29 days in advance of the election and had multiple options for returning their ballot. Los Angeles must do the same.”
Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk — responding to questions about long lines and other voting problems during the primary — said he wasn’t opposed to the idea, but pointed out that it would require mailing ballots to an estimated 2.5 million Los Angeles County voters who have never before requested a vote-by-mail ballot. That job couldn’t be done by the existing vote-by-email facility, he said.
At the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ March 10 meeting, the last held by the board, Logan said he was looking into various options and that the decision to follow Padilla’s suggestion would have to be made “soon” in order to get the work done by November.
The UCLA report is the first comprehensive review of vote-by-mail laws, according to its authors.
More information on the The UCLA Voting Rights Project — an advocacy project of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative focused on voting rights litigation, research, policy and training — can be found at latino.ucla.edu/votingrights.
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