COLUMBUS, Ohio – The coronavirus has upended everyday life in ways big and small. What happens when those disruptions overlap with voting? Thousands of state and local election officials across the U.S are sharing ideas and making accommodations to try to ensure that voters and polling places are safe amid an unprecedented pandemic.
Some are finding ways to expand access to voter registration and ballot request forms. Others are testing new products, installing special equipment or scouting outdoor voting locations.
Here are virus-related obstacles voters could face during this unprecedented presidential election year along with some of the solutions being tried:
CLOSURES AND CURTAILED HOURS
What if you need a voter registration form or absentee ballot application and all the normal go-to places are closed or open by appointment only? It's a problem nationwide.
The most recent American Library Association survey found that 62% of U.S. libraries, which are sources for voting documents, were fully closed while another 26% were offering only curbside service. Likewise, the vast majority of state motor vehicle departments — the largest source of voter registrations nationally and of the voter IDs needed in some states — are operating on limited hours, at reduced capacity or by appointment only, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Appointments in New Mexico, as just one example, are being scheduled two months out.
Benjamin Hovland, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, said 40 states have online voter registration, a particular benefit during the pandemic. The commission has beefed up its website, www.vote.gov, with links to register in all 50 states. Among states, Ohio has earned points for its creativity. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose struck partnerships with grocers and newspapers to distribute absentee ballot applications this spring, and he's tapped breweries to promote voter registration in the fall: "Beer drinking and democracy go together,” he said of the program, noting the pivotal role of pubs in Colonial America.
POLLING PLACE CONTAMINATION