Excerpts from a paper distributed by the American Civil Liberties Union
With many political leaders and lawmakers cynically refusing to authorize and fund mail-in no-excuse absentee voting, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a powerful tool to suppress the votes of poor people, people of color, people with disabilities, young adults and the elderly.
The stakes this November could not be higher, and with so many voters now facing disfranchisement, these suppression efforts have become too big and egregious for the public to ignore.
The ACLU is poised to meet the challenge and leverage the opportunity. During the past several years, we have forged a record of exposing egregious efforts at voter suppression and vanquishing those efforts despite the odds.
Confronting Voter Suppression and COVID-19
No one should have to choose between protecting their life and exercising their right to vote. Because we must preserve our democracy even as we engage in social distancing, the ACLU has been advocating—and suing—to expand access to no-excuse absentee voting. This crisis may well still be with us in November, and we are committed to ensuring that everyone has the right to vote and that they do not have to risk infection to exercise the franchise.
It is crucial both that vote-by-mail be universally expanded and also that safe vote-in person options be retained, the latter to protect the voting rights of people (such as those with disabilities or limited English proficiency) who need in-person assistance, and others who lack homes or mailing addresses.
In the current crisis, a failure to adopt and execute expansive vote-by-mail arrangements constitutes an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.
We have filed 11 cases to protect voting rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on expanding eligibility to vote-by-mail to all voters, and removing unnecessary barriers to absentee voting. They include:
In Georgia … In Kentucky…In Michigan …In Missouri…In Montana…In Ohio…
In Virginia…In South Carolina…In Tennessee…In Texas…
We expect to file up to ten additional cases over the next two months, including
In North Carolina…Minnesota…Georgia…Ohio…Alabama…Connecticut…and Puerto Rico.
Mobilizing Activists and Policymakers
Together with ACLU state-based affiliates, we are in the thick of advocacy with public officials to expand vote-by-mail access.
Given the current patchwork of state laws governing mail-in voting, we have demanded federal action. Congressional action is crucial to a timely nationwide fix, which requires both federal authority and a massive infusion of funds. The stimulus legislation, despite our best efforts, has thus far been insufficient, providing only $400 million for new COVID-19 election expenses that will be in the billions.
In mid-April, we launched a petition to Congress, demanding Congress “pass a COVID19 relief package that includes a mandated 14-day minimum early vote period, no excuse mail-in absentee voting, and at least $4 billion in federal funds—the amount required to make early voting and vote-by-mail accessible nationwide—so that no one has to choose between their health and their right to vote.” We also want to ensure personal protective equipment for poll workers, many of whom are in their 60s or older.
We have been conducting advocacy in more than 30 states to make voting by mail possible in the states that limit it, and easier in the states that already allowed it. When we first began pressing for mail-in voting in early March, 17 states would not let everyone vote-by-mail. In the weeks since, eight of those states—including so-called red states like Alabama, Indiana, and West Virginia—have agreed to allow mail-in voting.
Educating the Public
In the United States, every state has its own set of voting laws—and voting protocols are shifting in response to the pandemic. We have launched “Keep Calm and Carry On Voting,” a frequently updated website that now includes voting rights and ballot access information for every state with an upcoming primary.
We will expand and improve this site for the general election, to include voting rights and ballot access information for all 50 states. With compelling graphics and easy to navigate links, we will make “Keep Calm” a singular go-to resource for all voters.
Beyond Election Day: De-Rigging the Vote
Voter suppression tactics that obstruct ballot access can rig the vote. But there’s another equally important way election outcomes can be rigged, via gerrymandering— the deliberate drawing of voting districts to favor partisan or otherwise illegitimate outcomes.
Gerrymandering has destroyed fairness in elections throughout America and contributed to partisan gridlock. It has also—contrary to law—prevented Black, Latinx, and Native American communities from having their votes count fairly and hindered their ability to secure fair representation in government.
The current census—and the nationwide redistricting work that will follow—present a critical opportunity to make districts more fair. Although the actual process of redrawing district lines will not begin in earnest until 2021, redistricting is an extremely complicated, highly technical, and resource-intensive process. A sustained effort to influence the line drawing process in key states requires us to conduct substantial work now, with litigation running into through at least 2023.