By Madeline Shay Williams
As the 2020 presidential election quickly approaches, there is widespread concern about voting in the midst of a global pandemic. In an effort to socially distance, many voters will opt to cast their ballot via absentee voting and vote-by-mail. However, delays in mail service and missing absentee ballots have already spelled impending disaster for the presidential election. During the presidential primary in June, the District of Columbia’s Board of Elections allowed voters cast their ballots by email after receiving many complaints from voters who never received their absentee ballots by mail.
Newly appointed Postmaster General, Louis Dejoy, announced major operational changes that resulted in substantial delays in mail and package deliveries. On August 20th, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a complaint in federal district court in Washington, D.C. against the U.S. Postal Service and the Postmaster General asserting that the unprecedented policy changes violated both congressional and statutory mandates. According to the complaint filed by the NAACP, Dejoy neither provided an opportunity for the public to comment on the policy changes nor sought an opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission prior to implementing changes that would have a nationwide impact on mail delivery, which is mandated by Congress. The complaint also alleges that these changes are inconsistent with statutory mandate which requires the postal service to “give the highest consideration to the requirement for the most expeditious collection, transportation, and delivery of important letter mail.”
The NAACP filed a motion on September 1st to require the U.S. Postal Service and Louis DeJoy to rescind the changes to postal delivery.
What does this mean for Election Day in Washington, D.C. on November 3rd? The D.C. Board of Elections may allow voters to cast their ballot by email again. This process involves the voter retrieving the ballot online, marking the PDF document electronically, saving it, and submitting it via email with a signed affidavit. Ordinarily, states don’t allow voters to submit ballots online unless they are overseas, in the military, or disabled. However, according to a D.C. Board of Elections spokesperson voters waive some of their privacy rights by voting this way.
There are many concerns associated with internet voting. Some research studies and federal agencies have warned of the privacy and security concerns by voting online. There are also concerns that online voting could favor some voters who have access to the internet over those who would find it more difficult to vote in person. However, the Brookings Institute found some benefits of online voting which included easier access to voting for parents, those with disabilities, and the “hardest-to-reach voters” ages 18 to 25.
This could be the future of voting. However, with the presidential election just a few weeks away, there may not be enough time to accommodate for enhanced security measures for what is expected to be a large demand for online voting options.
During the presidential primary in June, only 20 voting sites were open in all of Washington, D.C. instead of the usual 100+ voting sites which left voters in line for hours. How does one choose during a global pandemic between standing in line for hours to vote in person and potentially compromising one’s health or voting by email and potentially compromising one’s privacy and security? D.C. voters may have to make that decision on November 3rd.