Older Americans Finding Voter Registration Difficult During Pandemic

As older Americans are advised to continue practicing social isolation and younger Americans, social distancing, voting registration has seen significant changes as adjustments are made for the pandemic. Since public gatherings are canceled until further notice, closing of motor vehicle offices, and door-to-door canvassing has been suspended, campaigns have moved to the internet, mostly over social media and video chats attracting younger voters. But what about older voters?

Almost every place where Americans usually register to vote has been out of reach since March and it’s led to a big drop in new registrations right before a presidential election that was expected to see record turnout.

As Trump has already seen a decline in the senior vote, the consequences of this additional decline could reshape the November election, although it’s not yet clear how.

Decline in voter registration since pandemic

Up until the pandemic struck, the 2020 presidential election had seen a promising increase in new voter registration. According to a recent study from Democratic voter targeting firm, TargetSmart, voter registrations in January and February of this year far outpaced those in the presidential election in 2016.

But as a result of the coronavirus, new registrations have slowed significantly around the country. After a record increase in January, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams was disappointed that registrations in his state almost flat-lined.

Registration hurdles 

Like voters in many states, Kentucky allows online registration. But Adams said, “It’s not the same as, say, going to a booth at the state fair.”

“People can still register, the government’s not closed, but without that personal contact, with people encouraging their friends to register, that’s why we’ve seen such a big drop-off,” Adams added.

Kentucky is certainly not alone. Virginia also saw 73 percent fewer registrations last month than in the 2016 election. Officials said one reason is the shutdown of Department of Motor Vehicle offices, where voters routinely register. 

North Carolina has seen a similar decline, but since their expanded online registration, registrations have picked up. 

Both parties struggling

Organizers of both parties say they always try to meet voters where they are, but now that means reaching voters at home and online.

Texas Republicans are doing the same, although party chair James Dickey says they started before the pandemic.

Political parties, which often take an outsized role in registering new voters, have also adjusted.

In Texas, where online registration is not allowed, the state’s Democrats launched a website last month that provides a registration form with a postage-paid envelope to send it in as part of their goal of registering a million new voters.

“In fact, we have seen our voter registration counts continue to increase and our volunteer count continue to increase,” said Dickey, who added that the Texas GOP is well on its way to reaching its goal of registering at least 100,000 new voters.

Dickey thinks the pandemic has probably had more impact on some of the party’s other activities. “It was our plan to be doing all of our voter persuasion and voter turnout efforts in person,” he said. They’re now doing it over the phone.

Visit Vote.org to register online

There are ways to register to vote from your home, such as the nonprofit Vote.org, which uses technology to register and mobilize voters.

“We’re having an avalanche of people come to us” as a result of groups ditching their in-person campaigns, said Andrea Hailey, CEO of Vote.org.

The group has already helped register more than a half million Americans this year, with a focus on young voters and people of color.

Note: In some states, online services are unavailable and voters are required to register by mail and provide photocopies of their ID.

Presidential election affected

The big question is how all this will affect the presidential election in November. Most people can still register until shortly before Election Day, but it is still unclear whether the losses so far this year can be made up in the fall.

The general belief is that parties benefit the most by signing up new voters, but that’s not necessarily true. What matters most is who ends up casting ballots. If you cannot register to vote in person, be sure to register online (if your state permits it). You can find out information on voter registration for your state here. All you have to do is search your state and it will provide important voting information like deadlines, locations, and more.

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