Despite major cities across the United States reopening, COVID-19 remains a huge health and safety risk. Not only is the pandemic expected to continue into the fall, but the virus is expected to return around the end of the year. In addition, 2020 is no ordinary year for American politics either. It’s a long-awaited election year.

With the general public growing more politically engaged, especially as outrage over tragic incidents of police brutality grows, people are recognizing the importance of voting to prevent dangerous individuals such as Trump from taking office.

As people risk their health for the sake of conducting their democratic rights, we need to reconsider our electoral process.

While several primaries had been delayed due to the risk of COVID-19 and the need to socially distance, other states, namely Wisconsin, decided to leave their primaries as they were.

During the primaries, which took place at the height of the pandemic, voting lines wrapped around several blocks, leaving voters in massive lines for hours. Immuno compromised and vulnerable individuals were suddenly forced to choose between voting and a potential health threat.

As people risk their health for the sake of conducting their democratic rights, we need to reconsider our electoral process.

Currently, the state of mail-in voting is not ideal, due to one main issue. Mail-in votes are rejected at much higher rates than in-person votes. This issue also happens to disproportionately affect first-time voters, voters of color, and voters of lower socio-economic backgrounds.

In California alone, one hundred thousand ballots were rejected for arriving late.

Trump and several other politicians have claimed that mail-in voting leads to more voter fraud, despite there being no proof for these claims. Of course, it’s always possible that first-time voters who aren’t educated about the process aren’t filling out the ballots properly. But this doesn’t explain why minorities (particularly Black people) are more likely to have their votes discounted.

At this point in time, access to mail-in ballots is a crucial element of our electoral process.

When we live in a country where so many people, from immigrants to convicted felons, are disenfranchised, we can’t allow voting rights to be taken away from so many others as well. Yet despite the problems with mail-in voting, the most disturbing issue is how voting has now become a partisan debate. When Wisconsin’s Democratic governor tried to postpone the state’s primary elections, it was the Republicans who pushed back and prevented the delay.

Now, we see the same partisan issues continuing. The general pattern appears to be Democratic politicians advocating for more access to mail-in voting while Republicans say no.

At this point in time, access to mail-in ballots is a crucial element of our electoral process. But that means that our officials need to be taking measures to prevent further disenfranchisement.

Rather than actively pushing for disenfranchisement like many politicians are so unabashedly doing, we need to be educating the voting public on how they can access mail-in ballots. We need to be making sure that millions of votes aren’t being excluded.

America has always prided itself on being the world’s most powerful democracy, but as soon as the fundamental right to vote is ripped away from millions, this country has no right to call itself a democracy. When we have politicians openly taking away the right to vote from millions of Americans, we find ourselves slipping deeper into authoritarianism.

There are two ways to view the pandemic’s effect on voting. We can see it as an obstacle to the democratic process. An issue preventing millions of people from safely voting and having their voices heard in this election. Or we can see it as an opportunity. A crucial chance for our country to emphasize its focus on the right to vote. Rather than dismissing the possibility of avoiding disenfranchisement, shouldn’t we be taking this opportunity as a chance to educate people about mail-in votes and the procedures they need to follow? Shouldn’t we be taking every precaution to ensure that each vote counts, as it should?

As the fundamental right to vote is ripped away from millions, this country has no right to call itself a democracy

Fortunately, efforts are being taken to work towards accessible voting. Given that COVID-19 shows no sign of slowing down, especially in huge electoral states such as Texas and Florida, we can expect our voting procedures to look drastically different this November.

In Texas, Democrats have filed a bid to allow all Texas voters to vote by mail in November. According to current Texas law, voters are permitted a mail-in ballot only if they are older than 65, cite a disability or illness, won’t be in the country during the election, or are in jail.

In South Carolina, voting rights advocates are attempting to expand mail-in voting, including efforts to remove a requirement that all mail-in ballots be notarized by a witness. Experts have claimed that this requirement does little but burden voters with unnecessary tasks. A similar requirement was struck down in Oklahoma but reinstated just days later under the guise of preventing fraudulent voting.

These are just a few examples of efforts, typically Democratic, to make mail-in voting more accessible in time for the general election. Many suits of similar goals are still in courts, and we can expect them to change our electoral procedures greatly. Even with harsh Republican pushback.

Voting is not meant to be a privilege, but a right. During this upcoming presidential election, it would serve our government well to keep that in mind.

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https://thetempest.co/?p=141003
Apoorva Verghese

By Apoorva Verghese

Editorial Fellow