How The Pandemic ‘Highlights the Struggles that Some People Already Have to Vote’


‘Thank You For Voting’ writer Erin Geiger Smith on how this has made people more aware of various barriers to voting

As mail-in voting has taken center stage during the pandemic, recent U.S. Postal Service mail delivery delays have sparked concerns over whether the agency can handle the anticipated influx of ballots this November. Critics have blamed these mail delays on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s cost-cutting measures, which include removing curbside collection boxes and eliminating overtime for postal workers. In response to growing outrage, DeJoy suspended these changes until after November’s election. Senate and House Democrats, meanwhile, have vowed to continue to hold DeJoy accountable and push for more USPS funding.

Journalist Erin Geiger Smith sees the controversy surrounding the USPS and the postmaster general as an opportunity to boost voting options. “Anything that highlights the struggles that some people already have to vote, it makes us consider more and figure out how to do better. That’s the opportunity that we have here,” Smith told Wake-Up Call.

Smith has not only contributed to major news outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times — she’s also the author of Thank You for Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting in America. The book offers a comprehensive look at the past, present, and future of voting.

“One of the privileges of mine that I realized when reporting this book, because I kind of started with that too, is [the question of] ‘Why wouldn’t you vote?’ It’s difficult for some people to understand voter suppression if you’re not facing those barriers,” she said.

Smith said she initially saw mail-in voting come into renewed focus at the start of the pandemic — and she pulled her book off the presses, so she could dig into the subject more.

“It seemed like a great chance for more coherent vote by mail laws across the United States, which, in a dream world, could lead to more coherent laws across the country,” she said.

As Smith alludes to, every state has varying mail-in voting rules. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah all currently conduct elections almost entirely by mail. The rest of the states can be divided into two categories: those that allow any registered voter to apply for mail-in ballots, and those that require an excuse.

However, 11 out of the 16 states that require an excuse to vote absentee have recently announced changes to eligibility requirements amid coronavirus fears. This comes as an increasing number of states embrace mail-in voting as a way to prevent large crowds from gathering at polling places. But, although President Trump himself has used mail-in voting, he has claimed that it leads to fraud, despite some studies saying otherwise. Smith pushed back against this claim, saying vote-by-mail fraud is not very common.

“I think more than anything, it’s important to note that vote by mail is safe. The systems are set up, every state has done it in some form, so they know how to do it. It’s just going to be about volume, “ she said. “And it’s going require a lot of patience on our behalf on having those ballots counted.”

She believes the biggest challenge this November is educating Americans about voting by mail. While the share of Americans casting ballots by mail has steadily risen, it still remains relatively low overall. The share of voters who mailed in their ballots increased from 7.8 percent to nearly 21 percent from 1996 to 2016, according to a Pew Research Center study.

“The biggest takeaway is that people need to learn exactly how to do it in their state, figure out if it’s the best option for them, do it as early as possible,” Smith said.

Whether the pandemic will have a fundamental impact on the election remains to be seen, but Smith believes that the crisis will lead to greater public awareness around their voting options, whether it be a vote by mail or early voting or in-person voting

“No one is arguing that there should be only vote by mail,” she said. “ There will always need to be opportunities for in-person voting and there should be robust options this year, too.”

This originally appeared on Medium.