With many counties across the nation, including Los Angeles County, expanding vote-by-mail options for constituents in order to support voter participation and safety during the coronavirus pandemic, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Center for American Progress (CAP) have released a joint publication stating that an increase in vote by mail registration should not be used as a reason to eliminate or decrease in person polling places.
A proposal to mail ballots to every registered voter in Los Angeles County passed unanimously by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 28. Beginning with the General Election in November, all county residents will receive vote-by-mail ballots.
The accepted motion also includes instructions to send a five-signature letter to the Los Angeles County State Legislative Delegation asking for emergency state funds to be allocated for the accelerated expansion of vote by mail procedures.
The motion asks that the The Los Angeles County State Legislative Delegation fund “recovery efforts that support the limitation of available in-person voting locations and the recruitment of election workers.”
The NAACP and CAP strongly advise against any limitation of in person polling places, despite the benefits of social distancing mail in ballots provide. While vote by mail ballots reduce the amount of voters who have to visit polling places in person, vote-by-mail options do not allow for the same day voter registration available at many in person voting locations.
“Officials have called for expanding opportunities to vote-by-mail a critical, commonsense step that states should prioritize in order to help protect the health and safety of voters and poll workers alike,” the joint publication by the NAACP and CAP states. “Unfortunately, some officials have coupled this call with efforts to reduce or even eliminate in-person polling places, which could potentially deny access to the ballot for millions of Americans.”
The column by the NAACP and CAP outlines five recommendations for counties planning to expand vote by mail programs:
• Keep in-person voting locations, which should allow early voting for at least two weeks before elections, as well as designating voting locations on tribal lands.
• Expand same day voter registration and online registration options.
• Develop nondiscriminatory signature verification standards and ballot tracking programs.
• Simplify requirements for absentee ballots.
• Create initiatives to educate voters on new voting policies.
According to the NAACP and CAP, African Americans are often at a disadvantage when it comes to vote by mail options, as they are more likely to move residences often and experience homelessness. Disabled people who need special accommodations when voting may also be put at a disadvantage if they cannot receive the assistance they need when voting through the mail.
“There are a number of in-person voting options from which states and localities can choose,” the joint publication by the NAACP and CAP states, “including traditional polling places, vote centers, and curbside or drive-up voting. By working with election officials, public health experts, voting advocates, and infectious disease specialists, states can choose the in-person voting options that work best for their voting-eligible population.”