Published April 8, 2020
Tuesday’s statewide elections in Wisconsin demonstrate the inherent difficulties of voting during a pandemic. The two major political parties sharply disagree on how to plan for November’s election if the threat of the coronavirus continues into the fall. They disagree most sharply over efforts to expand access to voting by mail. Data shows, however, that Democrats have less to hope for — and Republicans have less to fear — from such expanded access.
Wisconsin’s election revealed how difficult it will be to stage traditional, in-person voting. Voters come into close contact with one another as they wait in line and check in. And polling workers are also disproportionately senior citizens, a group that is especially susceptible to getting seriously ill from covid-19. Together, these two factors meant there were many fewer polling places open Tuesday, and those people who did want to vote often had to stand in line for hours.
Democrats generally want to avoid these problems by requiring all states to allow people to vote by mail in the fall election. While most states already offer no-excuse absentee voting by mail, many do not, including the important swing state Pennsylvania. Proponents believe making this mandatory will ensure that all people have the ability to vote this fall. Many also believe this will help Democrats, as mail balloting could make voting easier for groups that have low propensities to vote, such as racial and ethnic minorities and young adults.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.