The outbreak of COVID-19 across the U.S. has touched every facet of our society, and our democracy has been no exception.
The pandemic poses unique challenges with respect to the 2020 election, and several states have already rescheduled spring primaries for the summer. State election officials are weighing not only the public health concerns of in-person voting but also the possibility of voter disenfranchisement for those who would inevitably choose to stay home. Uncertainty surrounding the duration of the outbreak also raises concerns about voter safety for the general election in November.
This issue brief from The New Center discusses various state decisions, the state-specific provisions governing the postponement of elections, implications for the general election, and how a combination of drastically expanding mail-in voting alongside in-person voting may offer the best option to conduct a fair, secure, and inclusive 2020 election.
Which states have postponed their primaries?
Since President Trump's declaration of a national emergency over the coronavirus on March 13, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and West Virginia have postponed their primaries. Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming have replaced in-person primary voting with comprehensive mail-in systems. Ohio has postponed its primary and switched to a nearly all-mail election, with in-person voting allowed for people with disabilities and those without mailing addresses.
Despite the national emergency, three states, Arizona, Florida, and Illinois held their primaries on March 17 as scheduled. Wisconsin will hold its primary as scheduled on April 7, but on March 27, Governor Tony Evers requested that the state send absentee ballots to all 3.3 million voters—a task some state legislators and election clerks claim to be logistically impossible within such a short time frame. Several groups have filed lawsuits seeking to postpone the election and extend the deadline for absentee voting.
What legal provisions govern the postponement of a primary election?
The process involved in delaying a primary election varies by state, and some states are better prepared than others to modify their elections in emergency situations. A handful of states have statutes that allow for the postponement of an election in case of an emergency, and most of these statues grant unilateral decision making power to the governor.
Other states, such as Pennsylvania, do not have legislation on the books explicitly addressing election postponement. And state law sets Pennsylvania's primary election date for the fourth Tuesday in April in a presidential election year. Postponement of the Pennsylvania primary required the passage of a bill to amend the election code, and this would also be the case for any other primary with a date set by law.
A similar lack of clear guidelines for postponing elections caused confusion in Ohio and shed light on the importance of emergency contingency plans. The Ohio Democratic primary was scheduled for Tuesday, March 17. On Monday the 16th, Governor Mike DeWine expressed his desire to delay the in-person election and extend absentee voting due to the coronavirus outbreak. Without the authority to unilaterally postpone an election, he promised to support a lawsuit asking the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to exercise its power to do so. Judge Richard A. Frye rejected the lawsuit, claiming that the last-minute postponement would set a "terrible" precedent.
Shortly after, DeWine's chief health adviser declared a public health emergency and ordered the polls to close. This prompted a lawsuit from the Ohio Democratic Party. "Nothing in Ohio law provides that Respondent Secretary has the power to set the date of Ohio's 2020 presidential primary election," says the lawsuit. "Instead, the legal authority to set the date of Ohio's 2020 presidential primary election rests with the Ohio General Assembly." The Ohio Supreme Court denied this legal challenge. In addition to officially postponing the election to April 28, Ohio has also decided that the rescheduled primary will be conducted almost exclusively by mail.
If the outbreak extends through the fall, can the November general election be postponed?
The general election could theoretically be postponed, but several obstacles make this scenario highly unlikely. The Presidential Election Day Act, passed in 1845, sets Election Day as "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November." Therefore, postponing election day would require Congress to pass legislation that would be signed by the president and upheld in the courts.
In the unlikely case that this would happen, any flexibility in determining the length of the election delay would be limited by the Constitution. The 20th Amendment states that "The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January… of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin."
What about mail-in voting for the general election?
While postponing the general election is effectively out of the question, voting by mail is one potential solution that could allow elections to continue while also prioritizing public health. While states do not have the power to change the date of their general elections, they do have broad jurisdiction to decide how to conduct them. Several states have expanded absentee voting options to some degree or adopted universal mail-in primaries, which can serve as "test runs" for expansive mail-in voting in the general election. And five states, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah, automatically mail ballots to all registered voters for all elections. An additional 28 states offer "no-excuse" absentee voting, which means voters may vote by mail for any reason if they request a ballot in advance. The remaining 17 states offer absentee voting to those with valid excuses. Voters with injuries or illnesses qualify, as do those who will be out of the country on election day.
For the states that do not automatically mail ballots to all voters, uncertainty surrounding the outbreak's timeline has led state and local election boards to mobilize in preparation for a surge in demand for general election absentee ballots. But some leaders have hesitated to support the changes that would be involved. Democrats have traditionally been eager proponents of expanded absentee voting, which Republicans have dismissed as partisan power grabs. However, evidence does not support the belief that mail-in voting offers an unfair advantage to Democrats. In the 2016 presidential election, the rates of mail-in voting for Democrats and Republicans were about the same. If the coronavirus outbreak necessitates a nationwide move to mail-in voting, state election officials will have to weigh several logistical and substantive concerns:
Costs and Logistical Hurdles
The Brennan Center estimates that it would cost about $1.4 billion to implement nationwide mail-in voting for the general election. This estimate includes the cost of postage, ballot printing, and other equipment necessary for the transition. Maintaining in-person elections, bolstering online voter registration, and educating the public on these new measures would increase the overall cost of adequate general election preparation to about $2 billion. The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package includes a fraction of this estimated cost—$400 million—to help the states expand mail-in voting and make other election preparations.
Expanding mail-in voting cannot happen overnight. States that wish to make significant changes to their voting systems have a short window of time to do so before the November elections. And the more ballots states need to mail, the more time they will typically need. They will also need to hire and train new workers, verify voter mailing addresses, print ballots, mail them well in advance of the voting deadline, use signature-matching technology to validate them once they return, build in time to rectify any issues that may arise with signature matching, and count the votes. It will be up to each state to balance public health, election security, and feasibility when determining how to prepare for the general election.
While mail-in voting facilitates participation for many, it creates barriers for others when it is the only option. Many voters are comfortable with the civic experience of casting a ballot at a local polling place and might choose not to vote at all if absentee voting is the only option. Postal delivery is less convenient for voters who live in certain rural areas or who rely on P.O. boxes that are not necessarily nearby. And many Native Americans on reservations do not receive mail at all. For non-English speakers, translated instructions on a mailed ballot might not be as useful as a bilingual poll worker who can answer specific questions in person.
While voter fraud is rare, mail-in voting is more prone to it than other voting methods. For example, "ballot harvesting" scandals involve the altering of absentee ballots by volunteers or other political operatives who are tasked with collecting and submitting these ballots on behalf of voters. States scrambling to expand their mail-in voting systems might be more prone to these issues than others with robust mail-in voting systems that have been developed over the course of several years.
Certain precautions can help prevent this type of fraud by making it more convenient for voters to deliver ballots on their own. Tammy Patrick, a former county election official who is now a senior adviser at the nonprofit Democracy Fund, suggests that states offer prepaid return postage, accept ballots postmarked as late as election day, and designate convenient drop-off locations for voters who prefer to deliver their ballots in person.
"If you do these things, no one needs to pick up your ballot—it's convenient for voters to maintain power and authority over their own ballot. Not doing these things risks a situation where a voter has waited until the last day, and someone shows up at their door offering to take their ballot and they see it as their last opportunity. That could be someone with good intentions or not," Patrick told ProPublica.
Another security issue that could be amplified with the adoption of universal mail-in voting is voter coercion, which occurs when family members or others exert pressure on voters to vote a certain way. While all voters can be susceptible to coercion, absentee voters are especially prone—the kitchen table does not provide the same degree of freedom to vote independently as the voting booth does. But the same measures that would help prevent ballot tampering by making the process more seamless might also be useful in thwarting coercion efforts. For example, averting family scrutiny becomes easier when you have the option to return your ballot in a prepaid envelope and avoid having to provide postage from home.
Expansive mail-in voting systems and secure elections are not mutually exclusive as long as voters have plenty of options and privacy is prioritized. Colorado, which has one of the most secure mail-in voting systems in the country, maintains the option to vote in-person. An in-person vote voids that voter's mailed ballot.
Suggested Best Practices for States
When it comes to elections, there is no one-size-fits-all reform that would work for all 50 states. Many states did make changes to their primaries that prioritize both the health of the public and the integrity of the election. Even without postponement as an option for the general election in November, states still have the opportunity to make meaningful changes if they act quickly. To the extent that it is feasible, each state should consider the possibility that the coronavirus outbreak will continue through the fall and make in-person voting too dangerous.
Expand mail-in voting options
States should mobilize to change their voting procedures in a way that offers mail-in voting to as many eligible voters as possible. States that currently require an excuse to vote absentee should eliminate these requirements and allow any voter to request an absentee ballot online. States that already offer "no-excuse" absentee voting should move in the direction of the few states that automatically send ballots to all eligible voters.
Enact measures to secure mail-in elections
States should work to implement identity verification measures, such as signature-matching technology, for their mail-in ballots while also planning to rectify inevitable technical issues that might incorrectly invalidate some ballots. To combat ballot tampering as well as the increased likelihood of voter coercion that expanded absentee voting can bring, states should enact precautionary measures that promote and facilitate ballot delivery by the voters themselves rather than a third party. These include offering prepaid postage, accepting ballots postmarked as late as election day, and setting convenient drop-off locations for in-person delivery. Removing any opportunity for a third party to intercept the ballots or observe the votes of others can help preserve election integrity. Exceptions for elderly or disabled voters in need of assistance are often appropriate, but third-party assistance in these cases should require some extra form of authentication.
Maintain the option to vote in person
While states should encourage as much absentee voting as possible to protect the health of their voters and poll workers, they should also retain the option to vote in person to give everyone a fair chance to participate. While health concerns about crowds at the polls are valid, expanded absentee voting should reduce the number of voters who show up. To reduce crowds even further, states should consider adding new polling locations if possible.
Retaining an in-person voting option would expand voter access and serve as another layer of protection against fraud or coercion. With this option, a voter who is not satisfied with the absentee ballot they submitted can invalidate it by going to the polls on election day and casting a new one. A system of expanded mail-in voting alongside traditional, in-person voting is likely the best way to promote both public health and participation in the democratic process amid this unprecedented public health crisis.
Reposted with permission from The New Center.
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Making the switch to solar energy can help you lower or even eliminate your monthly electric bills while reducing your carbon footprint. However, before installing a clean energy system in your home, you must first answer an important question: "How many solar panels do I need?"
To accurately calculate the ideal number of solar panels for your home, you'll need a professional assessment. However, you can estimate the size and cost of the system based on your electricity bills, energy needs and available roof space. This article will tell you how.
If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Factors That Influence How Many Solar Panels You Need
To determine how many solar panels are needed to power a house, several factors must be considered. For example, if there are two identical homes powered by solar energy in California and New York, with exactly the same energy usage, the California home will need fewer solar panels because the state gets more sunshine.
The following are some of the most important factors to consider when figuring out many solar panels you need:
Size of Your Home and Available Roof Space
Larger homes tend to consume more electricity, and they generally need more solar panels. However, they also have the extra roof space necessary for larger solar panel installations. There may be exceptions to this rule — for example, a 2,000-square-foot home with new Energy Star appliances may consume less power than a 1,200-square-foot home with older, less-efficient devices.
When it comes to installation, solar panels can be placed on many types of surfaces. However, your roof conditions may limit the number of solar panels your home can handle.
For example, if you have a chimney, rooftop air conditioning unit or skylight, you'll have to place panels around these fixtures. Similarly, roof areas that are covered by shadows are not suitable for panels. Also, most top solar companies will not work on asbestos roofs due to the potential health risks for installers.
Amount of Direct Sunlight in Your Area
Where there is more sunlight available, there is more energy that can be converted into electricity. The yearly output of each solar panel is higher in states like Arizona or New Mexico, which get a larger amount of sunlight than less sunny regions like New England.
The World Bank has created solar radiation maps for over 200 countries and regions, including the U.S. The map below can give you an idea of the sunshine available in your location. Keep in mind that homes in sunnier regions will generally need fewer solar panels.
© 2020 The World Bank, Source: Global Solar Atlas 2.0, Solar resource data: Solargis.
Number of Residents and Amount of Energy You Use
Households with more members normally use a higher amount of electricity, and this also means they need more solar panels to increase energy production.
Electricity usage is a very important factor, as it determines how much power must be generated by your solar panel system. If your home uses 12,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year and you want to go 100% solar, your system must be capable of generating that amount of power.
Type of Solar Panel and Efficiency Rating
High-efficiency panels can deliver more watts per square foot, which means you need to purchase fewer of them to reach your electricity generation target. There are three main types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. In general, monocrystalline panels are the most efficient solar panels, followed closely by polycrystalline panels. Thin-film panels are the least efficient.
How to Estimate the Number of Solar Panels You Need
So, based on these factors, how many solar panels power a home? To roughly determine how many solar panels you need without a professional assessment, you'll need to figure out two basic things: how much energy you use and how much energy your panels will produce.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average American home uses 10,649 kWh of energy per year. However, this varies depending on the state. For example:
- Louisiana homes have the highest average consumption, at 14,787 kWh per year.
- Hawaii homes have the lowest average consumption, at 6,298 kWh per year.
To more closely estimate how much energy you use annually, add up the kWh reported on your last 12 power bills. These numbers will fluctuate based on factors like the size of your home, the number of residents, your electricity consumption habits and the energy efficiency rating of your home devices.
Solar Panel Specific Yield
After you determine how many kWh of electricity your home uses annually, you'll want to figure out how many kWh are produced by each of your solar panels during a year. This will depend on the specific type of solar panel, roof conditions and local peak sunlight hours.
In the solar power industry, a common metric used to estimate system capacity is "specific yield" or "specific production." This can be defined as the annual kWh of energy produced for each kilowatt of solar capacity installed. Specific yield has much to do with the amount of sunlight available in your location.
You can get a better idea of the specific yield that can be achieved in your location by checking reliable sources like the World Bank solar maps or the solar radiation database from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
To estimate how many kW are needed to run a house, you can divide your annual kWh consumption by the specific yield per kilowatt of solar capacity. For example, if your home needs 15,000 kWh of energy per year, and solar panels have a specific yield of 1,500 kW/kW in your location, you will need a system size of around 10 kilowatts.
Paradise Energy Solutions has also come up with a general formula to roughly ballpark the solar panel system size you need. You can simply divide your annual kWh by 1,200 and you will get the kilowatts of solar capacity needed. So, if the energy consumption reported on your last 12 power bills adds up to 24,000 kWh, you'll need a 20 kW system (24,000 / 1,200 = 20).
So, How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?
Once you know the system size you need, you can check your panel wattage to figure how many panels to purchase for your solar array. Multiply your system size by 1,000 to obtain watts, then divide this by the individual wattage of each solar panel.
Most of the best solar panels on the market have an output of around 330W to 360W each. The output of less efficient panels can be as low as 250W.
So, if you need a 10-kW solar installation and you're buying solar panels that have an output of 340W, you'll need 30 panels. Your formula will look like this: 10,000W / 340W = 29.4 panels.
If you use lower-efficiency 250-watt solar panels, you'll need 40 of them (10,000W / 250W = 40) panels.
Keep in mind that, although the cost of solar panels is lower if you choose a lower-efficiency model over a pricier high-efficiency one, the total amount you pay for your solar energy system may come out to be the same or higher because you'll have to buy more panels.
How Much Roof Space Do You Need for a Home Solar System?
After you estimate how many solar panels power a house, the next step is calculating the roof area needed for their installation. The exact dimensions may change slightly depending on the manufacturer, but a typical solar panel for residential use measures 65 inches by 39 inches, or 17.6 square feet. You will need 528 square feet of roof space to install 30 panels, and 704 square feet to install 40.
In addition to having the required space for solar panels, you'll also need a roof structure that supports their weight. A home solar panel weighs around 20 kilograms (44 pounds), which means that 30 of them will add around 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds) to your roof.
You will notice that some solar panels are described as residential, while others are described as commercial. Residential panels have 60 individual solar cells, while commercial panels have 72 cells, but both types will work in any building. Here are a few key differences:
- Commercial solar panels produce around 20% more energy, thanks to their extra cells.
- Commercial panels are also more expensive, as well as 20% larger and heavier.
- Residential 60-cell solar panels are easier to handle in home installations, which saves on labor, and their smaller size helps when roof dimensions are limited.
Some of the latest solar panel designs have half-cells with a higher efficiency, which means they have 120 cells instead of 60 (or 144 instead of 72). However, this doesn't change the dimensions of the panels.
Conclusion: Are Solar Panels Worth it for Your Home?
Solar panels produce no carbon emissions while operating. However, the EIA estimates fossil fuels still produce around 60% of the electricity delivered by U.S. power grids.
Although the initial investment in solar panels is steep, renewable energy systems make sense financially for many homeowners. According to the Department of Energy, they have a typical payback period of about 10 years, while their rated service life is up to 30 years. After recovering your initial investment, you will have a source of clean and free electricity for about two decades.
Plus, even if you have a large home or find you need more solar panels than you initially thought you would, keep in mind that there are both federal and local tax credits, rebates and other incentives to help you save on your solar power system.
To get a free, no-obligation quote and see how much a solar panel system would cost for your home, fill out the 30-second form below.