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Responding to the Coronavirus Crisis

The disease will test our democracy. Here are the resources and expert analysis to help ensure it doesn’t undermine it.

Responding to the Coronavirus
Maksim Tkachenko/Getty


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.