Advocates for making the coronavirus pandemic the time for changing American voting habits are taking heart there won't be any polling places for three of the next four Democratic presidential contests.
Voting in Alaska and Hawaii will now join Wyoming's caucuses in being conducted entirely remotely, among the latest wave of changes in the world of elections during a historic public health emergency.
While several states moved to make voting easier, Wisconsin pressed ahead with plans for a traditional primary April 7 and has now been confronted by four federal lawsuits hoping to force changes. And Florida reported the first known cases of poll workers subsequently testing positive for coronavirus.
Here are the latest developments:
How much to spend making elections safe this year, and whether to set new federal requirements for easing the voting process, were among many unresolved questions Monday as congressional leaders and the Trump administration struggled to agree on a nearly $2 trillion plan to rescue the economy from the coronavirus crisis.
The package Senate Republicans tried unsuccessfully to advance over the weekend included just $140 million to help states and local election officials "prepare for and respond to" the virus — but with no ground rules for spending the grants. Senate Democrats are holding out for an order of magnitude more, about $1.5 billion, while momentum was building in the Democratic-majority House for spending $4 billion rushing a universal vote-by-mail system into place in the next seven months.
The standoff, and the amounts of money involved, are second-tier issues in the context of the most significant federal economic bailout bill in modern times. But for advocates of boosting civic engagement and easing the bitter battles over voting rights, negotiations on the package offer a rare and enormously important opportunity to achieve goals set long before the pandemic.
Galen is an independent political consultant and advisor to The Lincoln Project, an organization of conservatives working for President Trump's defeat. He has been active in the electoral reform movement since 2016.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected every part of our lives. We've seen shelter-in-place orders, schools dismissed, and restaurants and shops shuttered. Every day we see new examples of Americans doing their part in the face of a crisis no one could have predicted and too many of our institutions did too little to prepare for.
Our elections are a prime example. In just the past few weeks we've seen primary and special elections postponed in the interest of social distancing and public health. Maryland, Kentucky, Georgia and Louisiana have pushed voting until later in the spring or summer. While this may provide a small hiccup for the Democratic presidential campaign, these decisions were prudent.
Kathy Boockvar has been Pennsylvania's secretary of state only 14 months, but she comes by her passion for elections honestly: She was a poll worker as a young adult, spent years practicing voting rights law, ran a credible race for Congress in 2012 and advised Gov. Tom Wolf, a fellow Democrat, on the most comprehensive overhaul of the state's elections laws in more than 80 years.
That experience has given her something to say about the state of democracy reform and election security eight months ahead of the presidential election.