The COVID-19 pandemic is making many things more challenging — including, this year, voting.
Matt Vasilogambros with Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Center for Public Integrity, spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about a series they’ve produced called Barriers to the Ballot Box.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Gratz: What are the most common barriers to voting that you’re finding people are facing around the United States?
Vasilogambros: Well, our project primarily focused on the massive reduction of polling places that we’ve seen in this country, especially since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. It’s particularly had a difficult impact on voters of color, students and poor rural voters as well.
One of the things that I know was an issue in some primaries earlier this year, because of COVID-19, was staffing. Is that still being seen around the country?
We’re in a difficult position now, during the pandemic, where you have a virus that hurts many older people. According to most national data, the folks most likely to want to become poll workers are those 65 and older. And so what we found during the primary season was that folks were just really scared of getting the virus, rightfully, and they didn’t want to participate in this election. I know that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has made quite a concerted effort to recruit more poll workers in Maine. It seems that people kind of stepped up, and while Maine could use more poll workers, it’s definitely not a crisis or shortage.
There have also been a lot of challenges to a lot of changes in voting procedures around the country. Are some of these cases still going through the courts? And might some of these continue even after Election Day?
That’s the real risk here. And I think that there’s a very high chance that thesematters are going to be dragged through the courts well after Election Day. I think the real risk right now is about information and about rumors spreading. And especially this is going to become key on election night, where people Americans are used to getting their results on election night. It’s not necessarily realistic that we’re going to get all the results on election night, and people need to be really aware that they don’t listen to misinformation and get the wrong idea. Maine is generally a good state when it comes to voter access. But because of ranked-choice voting, I think there is some room there where misinformation might be prevalent, and that could be a risk to the system.
Well, we also have a Senate race that I think a lot of people in Maine think will go to a ranked-choice count and that will delay a final result for a number of days.
What’s critical for folks to understand is that when ranked-choice does kick in, all of those ballots have to be sent to the state. There are 400-plus cities and towns in Maine, and so it’s going to take time for those ballots to get centralized and then counted and put through all the steps and everything, and that process can last a week.
It is getting pretty late in the process, do you have any advice for people who have yet to vote?
Vote as early as you can. If you are worried about the mail system, then hand deliver your ballot. In Maine, cities have to receive your ballot by 8 p.m. election night. Some people get mistaken and think that means they could mail in the ballot on Election Day. That is not the case. Your ballot will not be counted. Where I live and also in Maine, you can track your ballot online, like an Amazon package.
Are there lessons that we are learning that will inform how we conduct our elections in the future?
This election has really shown that there is a tremendous and devastating financial shortfall when it comes to administering elections in this country. Elections are run by 10,000 municipalities around the country. In Maine, it’s cities and towns; in other places, it’s counties. And each of those places are restricted by their own budgets. The Brennan Center, which is based out of the New York University Law School, puts that shortfall figure at $4 billion. Local election officials, both Democratic and Republican — I talked to a lot of Republican local leaders — are kind of desperate for that money.