The events we saw during the primaries in Wisconsin, Georgia and other states were unacceptable. Voters in those states, particularly people of color, faced countless barriers to voting — including absentee ballot delays, polling place closures, five-hour-long lines and broken voting machines.
The general election is just months away, and West Virginia and other states are running out of time to make critical purchases and plans to ensure free, fair and safe elections.
To run a safe and fair election this November, Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and other federal leaders must invest in and implement election protection reforms across the country so all Americans have equal access to the ballot box. We also need state leaders to commit to making absentee voting available to all registered voters again in the general election, and to mailing absentee ballot applications to those voters.
No American should be forced to choose between their health and their vote this year.
Experts estimate that the reforms needed to secure our elections will require a $4 billion investment from Congress for states and precincts to carry out this year, $400 million of which already has been sent to states without stringent enough requirements to protect voters everywhere.
Many of these important reforms are laid out in the HEROES Act and significantly boost access to the ballot and ensure that voters don’t have to choose between their health and their vote, regardless of where they live.
Those key reforms are:
- Ensuring that every state, including West Virginia, takes steps to protect the health and safety of poll workers and voters.
- Expanding voter registration options, such as online registration and same-day registration.
xpanding early voting to prevent lines and crowded polling places on Election Day where people could be exposed to the coronavirus.
- Enacting no-excuse, postage-paid vote-by-mail as an option for every voter across America.
- Providing assistance at the polls for voters whose first language is not English or voters with disabilities or other needs.
In West Virginia, we already have online voter registration, and 10 days of early voting at county courthouses and community voting locations. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill that amends the absentee voting laws to allow voters with a physical disability to receive an absentee ballot electronically and to vote independently using an electronic ballot-marking tool.
Most recently, West Virginia expanded access to absentee voting to all registered voters because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gov. Jim Justice issued an executive order and provided funding to mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state.
However, at this point, we don’t know if absentee voting will be available to all voters in the general election, or if the necessary executive orders and funding will be in place to mail applications to voters. The latter was crucial to enabling voters to take advantage of this option in the primary, and West Virginia voters embraced absentee voting in large numbers, with half of them choosing to cast their ballots safely from home.
Because the coronavirus is still with us, the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign is calling on Gov. Justice and Secretary of State Mac Warner to protect our health and our right to vote by making this option available to all West Virginia voters again in the general election.
Additionally, to ensure our county clerks have the funding and staffing they need to process absentee ballot requests in a timely and efficient manner, and to provide safe in-person voting options for voters and poll workers, federal leaders must invest in our elections, and make additional funding available to the states now.
This November, we must protect our democracy and, therefore, the integrity of our elections, beginning with ensuring that all West Virginia voters, and those across the country, are able to exercise their constitutional right to vote in a safe manner.
Our democracy depends on fair and open elections and the health of our people.
We can have both.