By Wendy Underhill and Amanda Zoch
June 2 was sort of a Second Super Tuesday, with eight states (Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Dakota) and the District of Columbia running either presidential or state primary elections.
Four of these states (Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) had postponed their primaries from earlier in the year due to COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders.
Little did they know, they were delaying from a public health crisis to a time of civil unrest and a lingering public health crisis. That’s out of the frying pan, into the fire, we’d say.
Election data shows that more people opted for absentee, or mail, ballots this election (see this story from Iowa, for example), but others still needed or chose to vote in person on June 2.
Yet an Election Day visit to the polling place—already complicated due to COVID-19 and physical distancing guidelines—became even more so in cities with curfews.
Three major mid-Atlantic cities with elections—D.C., Philadelphia and Baltimore—set curfews after protests erupted across the country in response to the death of George Floyd. And, in some cases, those curfews began before polling ended—a discrepancy that may have left some voters confused about how to safely exercise their right to vote after curfew.
National Public Radio reported that even though polls in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia remained open after curfews began, voters were free to vote and get home again. Philadelphia, however, extended its 6 p.m. curfew to 8:30 p.m. on Election Day, accommodating the city’s 8 p.m. poll closing. But that change came on Election Day and many news outlets—likely many voters, as well—missed it.
We live in challenging, turbulent times, and election officials have been responding as quickly and effectively as possible. America’s election administration is sturdy, but with a presidential election (already a handful on its own), a pandemic, civil unrest and a hurricane season predicted to be intense, election emergency plans and clear, early communication are more essential than ever for the smooth running of elections.
Wendy Underhill is the director of NCSL’s elections and redistricting program.
Amanda Zoch is an NCSL policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow.