Giving Compass' Take:

• Sarah Holder explains how democratic practices that rely on human contact, including petitions for ballot measures, are threatening by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. 

• How can funders help to advance citizen engagement in democracy safely? 

• Read about protecting democracy during COVID-19

Right now, Melissa Lavasani expected to be going door-to-door collecting signatures for Decriminalize Nature D.C., the campaign to stop arrests for the possession or growing of psychedelic plants that she launched in the District last December. She needs to gather at least 35,000 signatures by July 6 to get the measure onto D.C.’s ballot for the November election.

But with the city under a stay-at-home order, her campaign’s on hold. Lavasani fears that without the ability to do field work, Decriminalize Nature’s 2020 campaign will fail to qualify — a looming worry shared by proponents of ballot measures, initiatives, and referendums in states and cities across the country.

Nationwide, coronavirus-related social-distancing measures are playing havoc with the high-contact democratic process. Voter engagement efforts in the lead-up to the U.S.’s November presidential election have been hamstrung, and political campaigns have pivoted from door-knocking to mailers, and from rallies to virtual town halls. To maximize voter engagement where turn-out may be stifled, some jurisdictions are expanding early voting and absentee access for the upcoming general election, or rescheduling elections altogether. Other states are taking the opposite approach: After Wisconsin Republicans refused to postpone the state’s primary, hundreds of voters across the state risked coronavirus infection to stand in very long lines; in Milwaukee, where only five voting sites opened, in-person turnout was far below normal.

Citizen-led ballot campaigns are under some unique strains. Such measures, initiatives, and referendums offer voters a unique opportunity to engage in direct democracy, allowing individuals and entities to sponsor legislation that politicians may not take up themselves — for better or for worse. The mechanisms that qualify these measures for the ballot vary from state to state, but they typically rely on collecting thousands of constituent signatures at large local events or via door-to-door canvassing.

Read the full article about coronavirus threatens ballot measures by Sarah Holder at CityLab.