More than two dozen Democratic senators are urging the CDC to update safety guidelines for upcoming elections, saying the primaries this spring were a cautionary tale about the dangers of in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Wisconsin, in particular, which held its primary in April despite the pandemic, leaving voters in hourslong lines, highlighted the risks of voters contracting the virus, said the letter led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
“We have seen the consequences that the lack of preparation and clear safety guidelines can have in Wisconsin, where voters stood in lines that wrapped around blocks wearing home-made masks and garbage bags as personal protective equipment,” the 27 lawmakers wrote to CDC Director Robert Redfield this week.
“Reports indicate that health officials have now linked over 50 cases to voters who showed up to the polls on election day as well as poll workers,” their letter continued, citing a recent article by the Associated Press, arguing the “CDC should provide comprehensive and up-to-date public health guidance for voting by mail and in-person voting.”
The most recent CDC guidance — which was issued March 27, about a week before the Wisconsin primary — already lays out many practices the Democrats want: encouraging election administrators to support early voting, promote mail-in voting where it’s allowed, require physical distancing, and sanitize polling sites.
Still, Democrats contended, more is necessary. “Concerns include the ability to adhere to the CDC’s physical distancing guidelines in polling locations and election offices, allowing voters and workers to safely handle voting equipment and machines, and the processing of election mail, including absentee ballots,” said the letter. “Additionally, the CDC has warned that a second and even more severe outbreak of COVID-19 [the disease caused by the novel coronavirus] could emerge this fall in conjunction with the flu season, potentially affecting the general election in November. Updated and more thorough guidance from the CDC will help voters safely exercise their right to participate in the democratic process.”
A 2006 CDC report titled the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza: Implementation Plan sets out various contingencies for a viral outbreak — but not for elections or voting.
The missive aligns with a broader goal of Democrats: highlighting the risk of in-person voting amid the pandemic and advocating for more mail-in ballots. That clashes with some leading Republicans, particularly President Donald Trump, who has urged his party to “fight very hard” to stop mail-in elections.
But Democrats note that there must be alternatives to mail-in voting too. “In-person voting is essential for voters with disabilities who need assistive devices in polling locations, voters who need language assistance, and voters who do not have access to mail,” they told the CDC. “Therefore, additional steps should be taken to ensure in-person voting is safe for both voters and election workers.”