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WashPIRG tackles getting out the vote during a pandemic

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The new UW ballot box

The ballot box on campus located above Schmitz Hall.

Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG) members were joined by Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman and U.S. PIRG Director for the People Campaign, Joe Ready, on April 18 to discuss how voter registration and voting may look in upcoming elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Amid the pandemic, there have been concerns about how the upcoming election season might work across the country with social distancing restrictions. Some states, like Wisconsin, have continued to hold elections. Calls for voting by mail have ignited a fierce debate, sparking another partisan split with the president arguing that mailed ballots increase corruption

Washington, however, is one of five states that already holds all elections by mail and may serve as an example of how to successfully shift to voting by mail for the rest of the country. 

Wyman, who oversees voting and elections in Washington, has some worries for a national shift. Due to the pandemic, the transition to elections by mail may be rushed, which could lead to contested elections with both sides citing voter fraud or voter suppression.

“Even when our state wanted to vote by mail, it still took us five years to transition,” Wyman said. 

In Washington, developing an election system that was both balanced and secure took a substantial amount of work. One security measure in place, according to Wyman, is a real-time database that connects all polling locations across all offices, accounting for voter registration fraud. Signatures on mailed-in ballots are also compared with signatures on voter registration cards. 

In an attempt to remove barriers for the voter, pre-paid postage has made the election in Washington simpler.

Washington also allows for same-day registration on election days for those who can’t vote by mail. As this type of registration must be done in person, the secretary’s office is attempting to get voters registered now, thus limiting the number of people who have to physically show up on election day.

Even if people think they are registered, there may be things they have failed to update since the last time they voted, such as a new address, meaning that they have to complete an update before they can vote. 

“Are you ready to vote? Are you prepared to vote? Is your address up to date?” Wyman said. 

These questions plan to be asked to the public with a new campaign #TheVoteStartsWithYou by the secretary’s office, using social media, phone banking, emails, and more to reach voters. 

WashPIRG wants to continue to reach students, making sure that young voters are represented. 

“Regardless of what issues matter to you, you have to vote,” Ready said. “It’s your best voice and most important vehicle for making sure that what matters to you is ultimately a topic of conversation.”

WashPIRG meets Fridays at 3 p.m. on Zoom and can be reached at washpirg@uw.edu

Reach reporter McKenna Zacher at news@dailyuw.com Twitter: @mckennazacher

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