Our world was shaken this spring by something we never saw coming: a global pandemic. COVID-19 took the world by storm and sheltering in place in our homes became our way of life. Businesses locked up, economies shut down, and society almost stood still. Every person, whether infected or not, was touched in some way by COVID-19; it has completely reshaped the way society functions. One of those things that COVID-19 changed was voting.
In a typical voting year, voters stand shoulder to shoulder in line, possibly for hours, as they wait to cast their vote. Then, they handle ballots and touch screens to make their selections. Clearly a potential toxic stew of community transmission of the coronavirus, things had to change. Voting has been a relatively consistent and standard process for the last several decades, so, under the rule of a global pandemic, election officials and policymakers scrambled to find new ways to mitigate the threat of COVID-19.
For many, this meant reviewing their state’s continuity of government constitutional provisions, continuity of legislatures during emergencies plans, election emergency statutes and election contingency plans at the state and local levels. Officials and policymakers had to address both the practical and legal issues around facilitating elections, while also decreasing the potential for spreading the virus.
The two most popular strategies enacted to mitigate risk of COVID-19 while voting were postponing the date of an election, as well as extending the ability to vote absentee (by mail) to all voters, sometimes even requiring it.
Two Ways the Coronavirus Could Permanently Change American Politics
The coronavirus has changed the way American society did many things, including the way we vote and hold elections. Here are two ways the coronavirus could change American politics, potentially permanently:
#1: Mail-in Voting
Many are hesitant to wait in long lines, shoulder to shoulder, to cast their ballots. A poll released at the end of April found almost 40% of adults supported holding elections exclusively by mail, double the amount from 2018, and 56% of people stated everyone should be allowed to vote by mail without having to apply and provide a specific reason. Each state has its own guidelines regarding mail-in voting in the upcoming general election. Some mail absentee applications to all registered voters. Some — like Indiana — mail applications to those who request them. Mail-in voting remains a topic of ongoing discussion within every state and at the national level.
#2: Political Campaigning
With going door-to-door and holding fundraisers and mass rallies out of the question, politicians have had to adapt the way they campaign for office. Many have turned to virtual campaigns, holding video conferences with constituents and livestreaming speeches. Perhaps the shift to virtual campaigning will become the norm in future election cycles.