Another factor may be preventing people from participating in the 2020 general election: weather. Politico reports that a record number of Americans have casted their votes ahead of Election Day, but thousands of others face difficulty voting due to extreme weather. From shuttered polling locations to displaced voters, climate advocates are calling this a new form of disenfranchisement.
People who are already vulnerable to disenfranchisement are feeling most of the effects of this. This includes BIPOC, as well as, older people, those with disabilities and low-income Americans. These groups are also the most affected by extreme weather, too, according to Climate Power 2020, a group monitoring the weather's effect on voting.
"Hurricane Zeta closed early polling sites in the Florida Panhandle. Election judges had to carry ballots to safety from wildfires in Colorado. Ballot boxes were pulled indoors in New Mexico after a record-early snowfall. Freezing temperatures suspended curbside voting in Texas," Politico explained.
They also cited Hurricane Laura. When the hurricane struck Louisiana in August, election officials in Lake Charles had to consolidate 85 voting locations into three. As a result, at least 6,000 residents in New Orleans, Houston and other areas had to make sure their absentee mail-in ballots were delivered to their temporary addresses.
“This is not a criticism of election officials, who are doing God’s work. But you cannot discount that the extreme weather is making it harder for individuals to vote,” Lauren French said, Climate Power’s spokesperson. “A two-day close of a polling location might actually be the deciding factor of whether they can vote or not.”
Due to the natural disasters and the coronavirus pandemic, state and local officials rushed to accommodate voters. Experts say that early and absentee voting could be expanded as a result.
“As more Americans get exposed to convenience voting, options like mail and early voting, they like it and they want to use it,” Ben Hovland said, chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. “This may be a high-water mark for a while, but I guarantee that 2022 and 2024 will see higher mail and early voting than 2016.”
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