DCR Exclusive: The rules for voting have changed. States are allowing mail in ballots due to the Coronavirus.☕☕☕

Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some information about how the voting laws are changing this election year. And we have none other than the Coronavirus to thank for this.

The coronavirus pandemic is rapidly transforming this year’s elections, changing the way tens of millions of people cast ballots and putting thousands of election officials at the center of a pitched political fight as they rush to adapt with limited time and funding.

In a watershed moment for American voting, nearly 30 states have changed rules or practices for this year’s primaries or the general election in response to the public health threat posed by covid-19, according to a tally by The Washington Post. The new policies affect roughly 86.6 million registered voters including more than 40 million people who now have the temporary right to cast an absentee ballot because of the virus.

Battles over voting in the age of the coronavirus are defining the 2020 presidential cycle, with intense partisan fights over the rules erupting in states such as Wisconsin and Texas. The outcome will shape how easy it will be for people to cast their ballots in November and in some cases, whether certain mail in votes will be counted.

As more than two dozen legal battles wend their way through the courts, local and state officials are racing to figure out how to administer the election amid the health crisis, propelled by an unyielding calendar.

This year, more than 168 million of the nation’s nearly 198 million registered voters are eligible to vote absentee in either midyear contests or the general election.

In the fall, the country could see a huge surge in mail voting compared with 2016, when more than 33 million ballots were cast absentee or sent in by mail for the general election, about 24 percent of the vote, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The process has already been messy and costly, posing challenges for local election clerks, the U.S. Postal Service and voters trying to navigate the shifting rules.

The shift toward absentee voting has been rapid and widespread over the past two months since the coronavirus began to claim thousands of lives throughout the country.

At first, political debate was muted as elected officials made changes to voting procedures they said were necessary to protect the public.

Starting with Louisiana on March 13, more than a dozen states postponed primaries. Officials cited a number of practical challenges arising from the pandemic, including elderly poll workers withdrawing from their jobs out of concern for their health and a shortage of sanitizing equipment for polling places.

Since then, state leaders from both parties have announced decisions to facilitate absentee voting for people who fear contracting the coronavirus by casting ballots in person. This national shift has drawn comparisons to other periods of large-scale transformation in U.S. voting, such as the overhaul that followed the 2000 presidential election debacle, which set new minimum standards for election administration and provided federal funding to replace aging voting equipment.

Decisions about expanding absentee voting this year have in some cases been made by secretaries of states, often in partnership with governors both Republican and Democratic. In others, court rulings, new state laws and decisions by local officials are playing a role.

Eleven states that require an excuse to vote absentee have announced that voters may cast ballots by mail for the primaries this year if they are concerned in-person voting will make them sick. These decisions temporarily make voting by mail accessible to more than 40 million people.

Another 12 states and the District of Columbia are proactively sending absentee ballot applications or request forms to voters specifically because of the coronavirus. Roughly 34.7 million people will receive the forms, according to state figures on registered and active voters.

In the most controversial move, four states Maryland, Montana, Nevada and New Jersey are proactively sending absentee ballots for the primaries to approximately 11.3 million voters in the coming months. They join five states that already mail ballots to voters.

Critics say this practice substantially increases the risk of ballot fraud. Proponents argue that with the right safeguards, such as signature requirements and verification measures, mailing ballots is secure.

Critics say this practice substantially increases the risk of ballot fraud. Proponents argue that with the right safeguards, such as signature requirements and verification measures, mailing ballots is secure.

The swift changes have forced local election administrators to overhaul their operations to prepare for a surge in absentee voting.

That’s also the case in 34 states that already do not require an excuse to vote absentee or by mail, where officials are bracing for millions more voters to embrace that option than in past elections.

The pressure on local election clerks is now intense in states such as Iowa, where Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate announced in March that active registered voters would receive absentee ballot request forms in the mail ahead of the June 2 congressional primaries.

As of mid-May, the number of absentee ballot requests had spiked more than 10 times on average over 2016, according to a breakdown provided by Moritz.

Election offices are now scrambling to keep up as they process the requests, ensure the correct ballot is sent to each voter, purchase extra supplies and educate the public about the process.

Meanwhile, the state is also reopening businesses, raising the possibility of another viral outbreak.

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