The spread of the coronavirus has exposed core weaknesses in American government. Our election systems are unprepared. Our checks and balances on executive overreach are broken. Our addiction to mass incarceration endangers the lives of the incarcerated and those who work in correctional institutions.
In response, the Brennan Center is devising comprehensive plans to ensure the 2020 election is free, fair, safe, secure — and accessible to all. The solutions: wider online voter registration and other election tools, extended deadlines, and a move to make vote-by-mail universally available while retaining safe options for in-person voting. The most urgent need now is for Congress to appropriate enough money to the states to put in place necessary changes to our election system, and we have provided those cost estimates. We continue to work state by state to make these recommendations a reality and to ensure that all eligible citizens can vote and have their ballots counted.
We are also advocating aggressively for Congress to reform the National Emergencies Act and reassert its role as a check on presidential overreach. In times of crisis, emergency powers can be necessary and lifesaving. But many of the powers available to the president under the National Emergencies Act give him extremely broad authorities, and the risk the White House will abuse these authorities is everpresent. Now, more than ever, we need the vigilance of Congress to ensure that emergency powers are used responsibly and to safeguard the American people from unnecessary infringements on their liberty.
Finally, the epidemic has once again revealed the human cost of mass incarceration. It’s no secret: America’s prisons and jail are overcrowded and unhygienic. Making matters worse, 39 percent of those in state and federal prisons do not need to be there when it comes to protecting public safety. The courts and prison officials now must ensure people who present no public safety risk to the public are not incarcerated and those who are behind bars are released to help stop the spread of this virus.
This disease will test our democracy. But it doesn’t have to undermine it.