Medical professionals call for more voting options amid COVID-19 crisis

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A voting rights advocacy organization and several medical professionals on Wednesday called on state and local officials to enact necessary election reforms to safeguard public health amid the COVID-19 crisis. 

All Voting is Local, a nonprofit advocacy group, led the morning teleconference with the media. Aghogho Edevbie, the organization’s Michigan state director, said that amid the spike in COVID-19 cases around the country, including Michigan, that it is important “to expand voting options” and “protect our democracy and our health.” 

In 2018, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that guarantees the opportunity for no-excuse absentee voting — by mail or in person — and same-day voter registration. The state primary is Aug. 4 and the general election is Nov. 3.

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Edevbie suggested that voters be able to cast ballots in person over a two-week period and for government officials to provide paid postage for those who will submit mail-in ballots. He was joined by Dr. Rob Davidson, the executive director of Committee to Protect Medicare; Farhan Bhatti, Care Free Medical chief executive officer; and Katie Pontifex, a Michigan Nurses Association board member.

“Increased communication between officials and voters is crucial to protecting our democracy and public health,” said Edevbie. “Between now and Nov. 3, officials must do everything in their power to not only expand voting options, but also inform voters of the different ways to participate safely in our elections.”

The coalition is especially concerned about people of color and their access to the ballot box.

“People of color, seniors, and those with underlying health concerns have been at greater risk from COVID-19, so it’s imperative that they be aware of the safe, secure ways to exercise their right to vote,” said Bhatti, a family physician in Lansing. “As a physician, I want to encourage Michigan residents to vote by mail to make their voices heard while promoting their health and that of the public.”

Davidson, who also ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2018, pointed out that further COVID-19 spread is a concern.  

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“We ask that clerks put these protections, such as reduced wait times and proper PPE, in place, and that voters continue to wear a mask and maintain physical distance to remain safe,” said Davidson.

Pontifex said that state and local government should take all precautions necessary to provide access and safety.

“Whether it is voting by mail or taking precautions when voting in person, it’s important not to let the pandemic keep all of us from making our voices heard,” she said. 

Registering to vote

Voters can ask for absentee ballots online at the Michigan Voter Information Center. Individuals can also find clerk information, polling locations and steps on how to register to vote on the website. If someone wants to vote but doesn’t know how to start the process, the Secretary of State’s office has an online step-by-step guide for registering.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.