The coronavirus pandemic is set to change the way millions of Americans can vote in November, as states expand access to mail-in voting as a safer alternative to in-person voting.
On August 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill allowing any New Yorker to vote absentee to avoid contracting or spreading coronavirus.
As of now, over 190 million Americans who are eligible to vote would be able to cast a ballot by mail. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia already allowed anyone to vote absentee. But many of these places are making the process easier.
[Voting rules changed quickly for the primaries. But the battle over how Americans will cast ballots in the fall is just heating up.]
California will start proactively mailing ballots to registered voters, joining universal vote-by-mail states such as Colorado. Many states will send every registered voter an absentee-ballot application.
These types of statewide expansions affect 62 million eligible voters. In Montana, Gov. Bullock has allowed counties to automatically send ballots to registered voters, but not all are electing to do so. Similarly, New Mexico passed legislation that lets county clerks proactively mail applications to vote absentee, but only some will. In some states, like Nebraska, individual counties are expanding access to mail-in voting in absence of a statewide directive.
For voters in six states, in-person voting remains the only option unless they can provide an approved reason not related to fear of the coronavirus. Traditional absentee excuses include military deployments or illness.
*“Can vote by mail” includes states that don’t require any excuse to vote absentee and states that will allow fear of the coronavirus as an excuse.
In response to the coronavirus, nearly half of all states expanded access to mail ballots for their primaries, either by allowing fear of the coronavirus as a reason or proactively sending an application or ballot to every registered voter. Fewer have taken action for the general election, as the move has become increasingly partisan and subject to litigation.
President Trump has made numerous unfounded claims that mail-in voting will create widespread abuse and fraud. His suspicions are out of step with the views of election experts and many within his own party, who are building large-scale vote-by-mail programs. A recent analysis by The Washington Post found only 372 cases of potential fraud out of roughly 14.6 million ballots cast by mail in 2016 and 2018.