The prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the middle of many states’ primary elections has caused a plethora of problems for voters, candidates, and election officials. Dozens of states postponed election dates with the hope of coronavirus being contained, but even the after additional time, the virus remains a concern and postponed primary elections are here. This week, primary and/or runoff elections took place in five states: North Carolina, New York, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Virginia.
In New York, one of the states that my DukeEngage project focuses on, Gov. Cuomo moved to allow anyone to request an absentee ballot in attempt to ease the stress of COVID-19 on voters. While this seems like a great solution to sustain voter participation in the midst of a pandemic, this Wall Street Journal article explains that many New York voters reported not having received their requested absentee ballots in time for the election. While some people who did not receive their ballots via mail were able to visit polling locations to vote in person on Tuesday, many constituents could not due to health concerns or other reasons. This means that some people who requested absentee ballots on time were left unable to vote in this year’s primary election. The previously linked Wall Street Journal article also references other issues that took place on election day in New York. Some voters, such as Samantha Allison of Brooklyn and Laura Cardona of Queens, reported only receiving one of the two ballot pages. Even after confronting poll workers about this issue, the problem was not easily resolved. There is no way to tell how many voters only received one page of the ballot but didn’t realize that a second page was missing. So, even when voters could make it to the polls to vote on Tuesday, some were still denied of their right to vote in certain races by means of incomplete ballots.
As an intern actively working to increase voter education and turnout specifically in the state of New York, these major setbacks to voter participation are frustrating. My goal is to reduce barriers to voter education, so that people with less leisure time who might otherwise be overwhelmed trying to navigate the landscape of candidates’ values and endorsements on their own can have all of the relevant information to fill out their ballot in just a few minutes. While I still strongly believe that easy and free access to this information is a key component of increasing voter participation, my work feels less important knowing that even if my work was the deciding factor for someone in New York to vote, their voice still may not be counted due to failure to receive their ballot.
The failure to deliver full ballots to individuals who actively tried to participate in New York’s primary election should serve as a cautionary tale prior to other states’ primary elections later this summer and the nationwide general election in November. While politicians on opposing sides of the aisle may disagree on how to approach these problems, it is clear that something needs to be done to ensure that this does not happen again.