The November election may seem far away, and it’s impossible to know whether we’ll be operating under any kind of distancing guidelines like we are now. But the recent debacle in Wisconsin shows why states and localities should be preparing for voting from home. While pundits may debate whether the country should make the change, in the majority of states, individual voters can already choose whether to request an absentee ballot. The only question is whether politicians will be ready—or whether, if COVID-19 is still raging or has a second spike in the fall, they will oversee an election so chaotic that many Americans will view its results as illegitimate.
Is it feasible?
Voting by mail is already a reality—in 2016, nearly a quarter of the electorate voted absentee. In about two-thirds of states, voters either receive ballots automatically or may request an absentee ballot without offering a reason. But even states that allow such absentee voting have never seen a demand for mail-in ballots like Wisconsin had.
Wisconsin had more than 1.2 million requests for absentee ballots, five times the normal number The state was unable to mail the ballots out fast enough or handle the influx of secondary decisions needed—such as whether voters would still need a witness, even if they were living alone and under state at home orders. Meanwhile, poll workers dropped out in droves. This was predictable, given that across the nation, the majority of poll workers are over 60. Milwaukee had so few poll workers that it was forced to cut 180 polling sites to 5, and Green Bay had just 17 poll workers report for election day, leaving the state’s third largest city with only two polling locations and a line that stretched past midnight.