Ensuring Safe and Secure Elections

/ Blog Post

Hannah Klain is a 2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow hosted by Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Hannah’s Fellowship is supported by The Selbin Family.

Photo of Hannah Klain

Prior to law school, you interned at various political advocacy organizations, including the ACLU Voting Rights Project. What inspired you to pursue voting rights advocacy? 

When I think about why the fight for voting rights is so critical—and why I chose this field—I always think of the words of Congressman John Lewis, who said, “The vote is precious. It’s almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument that we have in a democratic society. And we must use it.” Congressman Lewis’ words still ring true. The right to vote is fundamental and generative of all other rights we hold. That’s why I feel it’s crucial to be part of the ongoing battle to protect and preserve this right for everyone.

Through your Fellowship, how do you utilize model litigation and advocacy to combat widespread voting access discrimination? 

Pushing states and localities to provide equal voting access to all—in the form of sufficient electoral resources like polling places, poll workers, and voting machines—requires various tools and methods. We work hand in hand with election administrators to provide them with counsel and guidance on allocating these critical resources to ensure no voters in their jurisdiction face discouragingly long wait times at the polls.

We also publish resources, like the Brennan Center’s new Waiting to Vote report, which documents the inequitable wait times faced by voters of color across the country and electoral resource disparities in communities that are growing more diverse and less wealthy. In addition to publishing the report, we engage with local and national media outlets to raise awareness regarding troubling electoral resource gaps. Finally, we pursue litigation in localities that violate state or federal law by denying voters fair access to polling places, poll workers, and voting machines.

According to a report you co-authored with other staff members at the Brennan Center, Black and Latino voters are especially likely to endure long wait times at polling places. What litigation and advocacy tactics will you implement to prevent these wait times come November? 

The 2020 Election poses unique and novel challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is little reason to believe the pandemic is going anywhere before Election Day. As a result, there is lots of work to be done to make sure polling places across the country are safe come November. In addition to widespread access to vote by mail, voters need healthy in-person voting options. One key element of secure in-person voting is ensuring there are adequate numbers of in-person voting locations. In primary elections this year, some jurisdictions suffered widespread polling place closures because of the pandemic. For instance, in Milwaukee, 180 polling places were reduced to only 5 locations open on Election Day. A recent report by the Brennan Center found that voters with fewer polling places per voter reported longer wait times to cast their ballots.

COVID-19 has made standing in long wait times at polling places not only disenfranchising but deadly. Given the findings from the report you co-authored, what are some recommendations for election administrators to expand access to ballots by mail and ensure that COVID-19 safety guidelines are implemented at in-person options? 

There are several important steps that election officials should be taking now to get ready for the upcoming November election. First, voting by mail should be available to all Americans who want to use it—it’s a safe, convenient alternative to in-person voting. Election administrators should make voting by mail as accessible as possible by mailing ballots or ballot applications to all registered voters, providing pre-paid postage for return envelopes, and offering various secure ballot return options, such as drop-boxes and drop-off sites. Second, evidence-based information about how to safely conduct in-person voting at polling places in November is critical to our nation’s well-being. That’s why the Brennan Center partnered with the Infectious Disease Society of America to release Guidelines for Healthy In-Person Voting. The document provides information on a range of topics, including voting location siting and configuration, supplies to prevent COVID-19 transmission, and poll worker precautions to protect voters and workers alike. If election administrators follow these recommendations—expanding vote by mail access and making sure polling places are healthy and safe—voters won’t have to choose between their safety and their fundamental right to vote come November.

To learn more about Hannah’s Fellowship project, visit her profile.

The right to vote is fundamental and generative of all other rights we hold. That’s why I feel it’s crucial to be part of the ongoing battle to protect and preserve this right for everyone. 

Hannah Klain /
2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow