Op-Ed: Voting in the time of COVID-19

A Vote sign directs voters to an early polling station for the March 3 Super Tuesday primary in Santa Ana California
REUTERS/Mike Blake

If election day in Wisconsin was any indication, election season this year is going to be more challenging and controversial than ever due to COVID-19. Thankfully, Governor Cuomo has already taken two significant steps to move New York in the right direction: rescheduling the April 28th presidential primary to coincide with the June 23rd congressional and state legislative races, and expanding absentee voting eligibility to anyone who prefers to vote by mail this election. 

These steps will help ensure that New Yorkers are able to exercise their constitutional right to vote this June. But it isn’t enough. If we want to make voting as accessible as possible, there are a few things we need to do—and quickly.

First, New York State should mount a massive public awareness campaign letting people know how to vote absentee this election. The campaign should include all the relevant information concerning deadlines and eligibility requirements as well as where and how to request an absentee ballot. We have to do everything in our power to get New Yorkers up to speed on where things stand this election season.

Second, for those who vote absentee, the State of New York should provide a pre-addressed, postage-paid envelope so that voters don’t have to make a trip to the post office and pay for postage — particularly at a time when budgets are tight for so many. 

Beyond the election on June 23rd, COVID-19 presents us with a unique opportunity to revisit some other reforms to our voting system, that would be game-changing for all voters—but particularly for women, who generally have fewer discretionary hours in their days than their male counterparts. 

Measures such as same-day voter registration and automatic voter registration (without requiring teens to pre-register) should be on the table. New York should get to work laying the groundwork for an expansive vote-by-mail option for this and all future elections. 

These reforms will help New Yorkers safely and efficiently uphold their civic duty. 

At Women Creating Change, we’re working with partner organizations and elected officials to make sure the New Yorkers we work with can make their voices heard this election season. We’re hopeful that New York State officials will do their part, too. 

Carole Wacey is the President and CEO of Women Creating Change, a nonprofit organization that’s focused on increasing civic engagement among traditionally underserved women.