Americans tend to think of voting as something you do on Election Day, a sacred democratic ritual: go to the polls, fill out your ballot in a booth, then wear an “I Voted” sticker to tout your civic virtue. The reality is often messier than that, as we’ve seen every year in the hourslong lines, broken machines, and utter confusion at polling places across the country. In 2020, amid a pandemic, this ritual is not only ineffective—it may also be dangerous.
Our ability to exercise the right to vote is under threat. President Donald Trump has assailed mail-in voting, even though it is safe, secure, and more popular than ever before. He has refused vital funding for the U.S. Postal Service, the agency millions rely on to return their absentee ballots. But even before the Trump administration started messing with the post office, many states had steadily built up obstacles to the franchise. Others, meanwhile, have expanded voting access. Now, in the vast majority of states, there are multiple ways to vote.