How battleground states are preparing for the pandemic election’s massive increase in voting by mail

Local elections officials expect a significant increase in voting by mail this fall.

May 21, 2020
Category: Fact-Checking

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About half of voters in Lee County, Florida, decided to cast their votes by mail in the past two statewide elections. Elections supervisor Tommy Doyle expects that to climb to 70% in November due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doyle, a Republican in a conservative-leaning county that is home to Fort Myers, has encouraged voters to mail their ballots this year out of concern for their safety. He is sending information about voting by mail, with a postage-paid return envelope, to every address in the county. For voters who had already requested a ballot, he is sending a card to confirm that their address remains current. 

At the same time, Doyle is doing his best now to ensure that Election Day is safe for people who want or need to cast their ballots in person. 

“We are now getting quotes to install sneeze guards at all our offices that take in the public and extra face masks and everything we need for sanitation at polls,” he said.

With the 2020 presidential election less than six months away, state and local officials are scrambling to prepare for a potentially massive increase in voting by mail.

In 2016, about one-quarter of votes nationally were cast by mail through absentee voting. This year, some state governments have already changed laws and policies to expand it. 

Virginia and New Hampshire no longer require an excuse to cast an absentee vote (setting them apart from 15 states that still do). In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a ballot sent to every voter. A bill to ease mail balloting in Missouri is now on the governor’s desk. And New York, Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Carolina have made the vote-by-mail process easier for their respective primaries, though not yet for the general election.

The nitty-gritty of administering the 2020 vote, however, is left to local officials like Doyle who are making their best guesses about how to prepare.

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Alex Mahadevan is a senior multimedia reporter at MediaWise. He can be reached at amahadevan@poynter.org or on Twitter at @AlexMahadevan. Follow MediaWise on TikTok.

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