Lines of people stood outside polling stations in Wisconsin last Tuesday. There seemed to be a heaviness in the air, as the crowd of people in masks and gloves contemplated whether exercising their civil liberties was worth risking their health as well.
This past week, the state of Wisconsin decided to go ahead with in-person voting despite the unprecedented COVID-19 Pandemic. This choice likely exposed countless voters and volunteers to the virus despite WHO and CDC recommendations to avoid crowds and maintain a minimum of six feet from others.
Though the state Supreme Court had jurisdiction to delay and shift the primary election voting to an absentee ballot system, the state chose, in the name of tradition, to continue the election as usual. This choice was controversial, and will likely increase the number of cases in the state within the next few weeks. However, neither the state nor citizens should have to make this choice between health and maintaining democracy.
Even before COVID-19, there have been many barriers to vote. Most individuals are not able to take time off to cast a ballot and, furthermore, have trouble registering to vote in the first place. These barriers contribute to the United States having one of the lowest rates of voter turnout across democracies, and it is high time that changes.
In the past ten years, many countries have started introducing the option of online voting. Studies show that these measures not only make voting more accessible to the preexisting voter population, but they also deter voter suppression and intimidation.
Estonia, a country in Western Europe, pioneered this online voting system endeavor, and now the entirety of government functions have moved to a virtual model, which has helped the country significantly lower costs and encourage significantly higher rates of civic engagement.
The current state of the United States shows that we can no longer forget about the shortcomings and under-preparedness of our political system. Yes, many governors have since moved state primaries to an absentee ballot structure, and some states have also sanctioned election-day a state-wide holiday, but our country needs lasting change. What happened in Wisconsin is a wake-up call for us to make changes to our voting policies so that citizens do not have to continue to make sacrifices to have a say in the future of their community and country.