In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it may feel like there is little we can count on anymore. But the potential convergence of two trends that are as close to sure bets as we can get these days should have state elected officials unified and acting quickly to prepare to safeguard our health, safety, and our right to vote in the upcoming August primary and November general election.

The first trend is that older people vote – regularly, reliably, and in greater numbers than younger Minnesotans. Nearly 84% of Minnesotans between the ages of 65 and 79 voted in the 2018 midterms. Take the enthusiasm that the 2020 presidential election is sure to generate and the fact that there are more people over the age of 65 in Minnesota than school-age children, and older voters showing up to vote is a trend you can take to the bank this year and going forward.

The second trend is that COVID-19 is killing older people – regularly, reliably and in greater numbers than younger Minnesotans. As of this writing and according to the Minnesota Department of Health, the median age of all COVID-19 related deaths in Minnesota was 87 years old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older people and those with underlying health conditions, like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, are about twice as likely to develop serious outcomes versus younger, healthier people.

Beyond these indisputable trends, we know that older Minnesotans are also overrepresented when it comes to serving as volunteer poll workers and election judges. At a recent legislative hearing, the chief election official for Hennepin County noted that some 60% of election volunteers were over the age of 60. And furthermore, the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office has indicated that Minnesota houses polling places in at least 43 senior living facilities.

All of this has us at AARP asking if our state is doing enough now to prepare for an election that could be impacted by COVID-19. While we don’t know how long this health crisis will last, we do know that Minnesota can lead the nation in taking steps today to mitigate its impact on our fundamental right to vote.

Specifically, AARP Minnesota is recommending that Minnesota take all necessary steps to:

expand absentee balloting or vote by mail options to all registered voters in the state who wish to vote by mail;

close or relocate polling stations in high risk locations such as long-term care facilities and senior centers; and

allow trained employees of health care facilities to administer the absentee voting process to temporary or permanent residents and patients.

All of us – citizens, elected officials, our health care community and first-responders, and people in the business and nonprofit sectors – have been doing incredible work to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on our state and communities. We hope these efforts will help get life back to normal sooner rather than later.

But when it comes to something as important as exercising our right to vote, we should err on the side of caution. We urge our state to take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of all voters and to ensure full participation in our elections. The state Legislature has been working in a bipartisan fashion to address this issue, and we hope they succeed. But if they fail, Gov. Tim Walz will need to step in.

Let’s recognize the trends, put in the work today to prepare for a safe election, and hope that a day comes when we can look back and say we were too prepared.

Will Phillips is the state director for AARP Minnesota.

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