The coronavirus pandemic highlights that Americans need more options to vote

The coronavirus outbreak has caused 10 U.S. states and territories to postpone their 2020 primary elections in order to reduce the spread of the virus by protecting voters and poll workers—a majority of whom are age 61 and older and face the greatest risk from the virus. These postponements demonstrate the urgent need for safe, alternative voting methods to safeguard democracy amid a pandemic, especially before November’s general election.

One promising method is a vote-by-mail system. Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah—already conduct their elections through mail. Several voting rights groups have expressed support for a vote-by-mail system for the remaining primaries and the general election. And the U.S. House of Representative’s latest coronavirus response bill proposes a national requirement of 15 days of early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and mailing ballots to all registered voters during an emergency.

We should also consider a radical change to our voting options: online voting. While online voting may seem farfetched, it has already been successfully implemented in some U.S. elections. For example, earlier this year, the Greater Seattle area held the first election in U.S. history where all voters could cast a ballot by smartphone, while West Virginia has allowed voters living overseas to vote using a mobile app. Given that 81% of Americans own smartphones, studies show that online voting could dramatically increase voter turnout. Imagine the kinds of policies lawmakers could enact, that would represent the views of all Americans, if we had higher voter turnout due to more voting options. Think about how many primaries could continue as scheduled this year if Americans were given all options to vote.

Skeptics will argue that online voting has disadvantages—mainly that there’s a security risk. While, to some extent, this threat may be legitimate, our government already allows for individuals to fill out an online form that determines how billions of dollars will be spent in our community over the next decade—the 2020 Census. Just as census responses can be mailed or completed online, we must let Americans participate in the democratic process by casting a ballot by mail or voting online.

Further, I would argue that every method of voting has advantages and disadvantages, but that should not automatically disqualify them. For example, early voting allows more Americans the flexibility to vote based on their schedule, yet it is costly. Likewise, voting by mail allows people to vote from home, yet it has had issues in the past with missing ballots. The coronavirus threat has highlighted that future elections need more secure voting methods to protect American democracy, including voting by mail and online voting.