The coronavirus outbreak is not only a public health emergency and an economic crisis — it also threatens our elections. Elections are foundational to our democracy. But as federal, state, tribal, and local governments issue stay-at-home orders and encourage residents to practice social distancing to combat the virus, large-scale, in-person voting on Election Day could present serious risks to public health. While many states have taken steps to postpone primary elections or adopted policies — like online registration, early voting, and vote by mail — to make it easier for eligible Americans to vote safely, others are moving ahead with ill-advised plans that could accelerate the spread of disease.
Our government needs to act immediately to make sure elections in the United States can proceed safely, securely, and on time — even as this outbreak drags on. But last week, Donald Trump asserted that if we made it easier for more people to vote, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” And he’s just the latest in a string of right-wing politicians who have embraced efforts to make it harder for people to vote — by closing polling places, purging millions of voters from voting rolls, limiting early voting, and passing restrictive voter identification laws. The Supreme Court smoothed the way for this undemocratic agenda by defanging the nation’s signature voting rights law that protected disenfranchised voters of color, disabled and language-minority voters, and other vulnerable groups.
In times of crisis, when people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line, it is more important than ever that elected representatives are held accountable. There is no room for partisanship when it comes to protecting the basic machinery of our democracy. In the next coronavirus relief package that passes Congress, Democrats and Republicans who respect our form of government must take four simple steps to protect the health and safety of America’s voters, ensure states are equipped with the resources they need, and strengthen our electoral institutions for the long haul.
First, we must ensure that all Americans can register to vote safely and easily. This means not only preventing the pandemic from being used as a cover for voter purges, but also restoring voter rolls and…