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Voting in the Wake of COVID-19: A Review

As the COVID-19 health crisis continues to mar social activity, a new survey from the American Bar Association (ABA) shows sharply growing support for online voting among Americans.

vote 1319435 640 smallThe results were reported in the second annual 2020 Survey of Civic Literacy (PDF) from the ABA, which was released as part U.S. Law Day, celebrated each May. According to the trade organization, the survey was conducted on behalf of the ABA between Monday, March 9 and Friday, March 13 and Tuesday April 7 and Saturday, April 11, by DAPA Research. It aims to measure “public knowledge and opinions on a variety of legal and civic knowledge topics.”

“In the March survey, conducted before the pandemic overtook the country, 63% said they opposed allowing Americans to vote online rather than going to a polling booth. But the April poll, conducted when much of the country was under stay-at-home orders, found opposition to online voting shrank to 40%. Support soared from 34% in March to 55% in April,” according to the ABA.

In both surveys, though, public support for permitting voting prior to Election Day was strong.


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Law Day is a free public program administer by the Law Library of Congress and the ABA Division for Public Education dedicated to celebrating “the legacy of the 19th Amendment” and “why the 19th Amendment still matters and how the women’s suffrage movement changed America.”

Other findings from the survey include:

  • 52% of respondents said they believe voter fraud “is a major problem in the U.S.,” while 82% support requiring voters “present an ID to prove their identity before voting”
  • 72% of those asked support “restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences”
  • Less than half of those asked correctly knew votes in the Electoral College are based on the number of representatives in Congress, while one-third incorrectly thought the electoral votes are predicated on the total registered voters in a state
  • 83% of respondents said they support the Equal Rights Amendment, which constitutionally guarantees the right to vote regardless of gender 
  • 57% of those asked correctly noted the 19th Amendment guarantees women the right to vote, but close to 20% of those asked incorrectly thought it “guaranteed rights to all, regardless of gender.”

Sentencing Project Report Calls to Bolster Voting Rights 

Days after the ABA Law Day celebration, the Sentencing Project released a new report on Thursday, May 7, calling for a number legal reforms. It targeted not only those deemed ineligible to vote due to their criminal status, but also those who are eligible to vote, but are unable to do so due to ineffective mechanisms in place during, for example, pre-trial incarceration.

“Despite the fact that most persons detained in jail are eligible to vote, very few actually do. Jail administrators often lack knowledge about voting laws, and bureaucratic obstacles to establishing a voting process within institutions contribute significantly to limited voter participation,” reads the report. “Indeed, acquiring voter registration forms or an absentee ballot while incarcerated is challenging when someone cannot use the internet or easily contact the Board of Elections in their community.”

Further, notes the study, many people in jail do not know they have the right to vote and there are few programs in place to guarantee their access. The report details some of those programs aimed at expanding access to voting for eligible individuals who are incarcerated. “In recent years, some jurisdictions have adopted policies and practices to ensure voting access for persons incarcerated in local jails because of initiatives developed by jail leadership and advocacy organizations,” it reads.

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