Jessica King’s postal vote never arrived. She tried to vote early at her polling station near her home in Albany, Georgia – but left when the crowd made social distancing impossible.
Thanks to an early alarm on election day and an almost one-hour wait, the 27-year-old king was finally able to vote in the state’s June area code.
The obstacles she encountered in order to safely turn a ballot into a pandemic for several months was frustratingly familiar to her as a black voter.
“As a black person, the worry that my vote won̵
The postal vote has been advocated – and rightly, experts say – as the safest way to vote in the 2020 elections while the nation remains threatened by the coronavirus, which has killed more than 160,000 people and made millions sick without ending is in sight. Many of these experts have advocated the expansion of postal voting for years as a proven way to increase participation in a democracy in which an estimated 43 percent of the eligible population do not vote for one reason or another.
But the changes states must make before November to protect voters from COVID-19 – expanding their postal and postal voting systems while reducing the number of polling stations – could address the issues of racial discrimination and the disenfranchisement of blacks, Hispanic Americans and blacks top other color pickers have spent generations struggling.
The cause lay in the late John Lewis, the longtime Democratic Congressman from Georgia and civil rights giant, who was beaten on Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama for marching in support of voting rights in March 1965 at one time when election taxes and literacy tests became law.
This widespread discrimination across the country was ultimately confronted 55 years ago with the landmark Voting Rights Act, which provided substantial federal funding for the eligibility of black voters when states did not. Federal auditors went south and registered tens of thousands of black voters when district clerks refused. States and counties with a history of discrimination had to prove to the Justice Department that new electoral rules did not deprive color voters of their rights.
For the next half century, civil rights activists, voting representatives, and the Justice Department struggled to make an electoral system fairer for white landowners.
And while black voters no longer have to guess the number of gummy bears in a jar to cast a ballot, inequality persists. States have introduced voter ID requirements and restrictive electoral laws that make it disproportionately difficult for people of color to vote, while persistent wandering dilutes voter power.
In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, allowing states and counties with a history of discrimination to hold their elections without federal oversight. In these areas, more than 1,600 polling stations were closed without federal supervision between 2012 and 2018. Many states have worked to aggressively cleanse their electoral rolls, while other states have passed new and restrictive laws to prevent fraud, even though there is no evidence that fraud is permeating the American elections.
And then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated a poorly prepared country and curtailed plans for normal election day.
Proponents now fear that election changes could put blacks and Latinos hardest hit by the pandemic at risk of losing their voting rights. Young, diverse Americans who have spent the summer mobilizing for racial justice may face the greatest obstacles to participation, not to mention the millions of Americans displaced this summer who may be unable to vote by mail .
“If we do nothing else now, we will not only see dramatic racial differences, but also widespread disenfranchisement,” said Wendy Weiser, vice president of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law. “There are differences at every step of the process and they are really made worse by the coronavirus – they are already made worse.”
Both major political parties, along with advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters, and the NAACP, have launched a series of legal disputes over the application and updating of rules of absence. Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, are alarming about the threat of electoral fraud, which has not been proven, and have rushed to defend existing laws, while Democrats, who have reliably enjoyed the support of the most deprived groups, say they save no cost to disenfranchise more people.
“This is perhaps the greatest election management challenge of our lives,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project.
According to a group of researchers from Harvard, Northeastern and Rutgers Universities, and Harvard Medical School, 64 percent of Americans are expected to vote by mail this year. According to census data, that’s a huge increase from the 23 percent who voted by mail in 2018.
Proponents like Ho have been pushing to improve access to voting this way for years, but many fear the nation botched the rollout: Congress has only offered $ 400 million in additional election funding to date, although states have estimated 4 Billions of dollars in federal funding are needed to manage these secure, mail-heavy elections. House Democrats have provided $ 3.6 billion in election funding as part of a $ 3 trillion coronavirus aid package that the Chamber passed in May. However, the Senate Republicans have refused to provide cash to local governments to run elections.
“We’re testing all democratic institutions at once,” said Justin Levitt, a former Justice Department proxy and professor at Loyola Law School.
Mail voting works better for older, white voters
In a pandemic, voting via email seems like an obvious choice to gain access to the polls and public health at the same time. Western states such as California, Oregon, and Colorado have been doing this for years, but in practice across the country, postal voting – most commonly referred to as postal voting – disproportionately benefits certain groups of voters.
Older, white voters are significantly more likely to vote by mail and have these ballots counted, as studies show, while voters with color and younger voters are significantly more likely to reject their ballots.
“Nobody has scrutinized the fairness of the postal voting rules because most people did not vote by postal vote and most people have sensible, alternative voting methods without risking their lives,” said Weiser.
Daniel A. Smith, Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida, has this year studied the impact of postal voting rules. In April, he jointly published a paper that reported that Hispanic and black voters were more than twice as likely to be rejected as white voters in the Florida general election in 2018. In May, he published a review of Georgia’s 2018 medium-term election data, which found a similar pattern of rejection for color voters. For example, in Gwinnett County, the second largest county in Georgia, around 4 percent of postal ballots from white voters were rejected, while 8 percent of postal ballots from black voters were rejected.
“We’re in a crazy world where there’s a trade-off between our health and our voting. I understand perfectly why people want to vote by mail – it’s by far the safest way to vote. But it’s one that isn’t free “said he said.
Smith said he plans to vote in person in November. “I’ll put on my PPE,” he said, referring to personal protective equipment.