In the past few months, we’ve seen the challenges associated with holding an election during a public health crisis. In Wisconsin, hundreds of polling places were closed due to a lack of volunteers. In Georgia, voters had to wait in line for hours to cast their ballots. What happened in these other states wasn’t a fair or democratic process by any measure. 

It’s our responsibility to ensure that all Minnesotans can cast their vote safely and securely. We need to prevent issues like those we’ve seen in other states and take proactive steps to safeguard the health of voters and election officials. Our state has led the nation in turnout in recent elections. That’s something to be proud of, but more needs to be done to maintain our status as a national leader and build on that success. 

Earlier this year, legislators passed a bipartisan bill to protect the safety and security of our elections. The bill allows our state to use federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds to prepare for COVID-19-related disruptions and keep voters and volunteers safe. The funding can be used to prepare for increased absentee voting, open new polling locations, purchase sanitation and disinfectant supplies, and expand public outreach for implementing social distancing guidelines related to voting. The legislation also included needed funding to improve accessibility and modernize cybersecurity. This will help protect our election system from hacking and foreign interference. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated inequalities in our current election system. Changes are needed to protect our seniors, people with disabilities, and other Minnesotans who are vulnerable to COVID-19. We can’t force people to choose between casting their vote and risking their health. We need to provide ways for our most vulnerable citizens to make their voices heard. 

In addition, we need to break down barriers to voting that disenfranchise certain categories of people. People of color and lower-income Minnesotans, many of whom were hit particularly hard by the pandemic, are disproportionately harmed by our current public safety system. That means they’re also disproportionately disenfranchised from voting as full citizens. Restoring the vote to Minnesotans who have served their time is a significant step we can take to address these inequalities and help people fully rejoin their communities. 

Ultimately, citizens hold government accountable by voting. If people are excluded from our elections, our state won’t work as well as it should. We can’t come together to build a state that works better for everyone if some people are silenced at the ballot box. I’m committed to ensuring everyone who is eligible to vote can participate in our democracy – no matter where they live or what they look like. 

If you’d like to vote from the comfort and safety of your own home, I encourage you to request an absentee ballot by visiting mnvotes.org or calling 651-215-1440. All eligible voters can request an absentee ballot in our state. There is a statewide primary on Aug. 11, and the general election is on Nov. 3.  Early voting for the general elections starts on Sept. 18.

Jamie Becker-Finn represents District 42B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She can be reached at 651-296-7153, Rep.jamie.becker-finn@house.mn or 307 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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