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Travel is a political act: The ways in which we move—or don’t—throughout the world are dictated entirely by borders and the power forces at play.
Though travel is often a means of escaping daily life, there are times, as travelers, when it’s essential that we lean in to the issues at hand. The 2020 U.S. election is one of them. From debates over financial relief for hospitality brands and airlines to environmental regulations, to immigration policies that will dictate where we can travel, many of the issues at stake in November will shape the country we live in and how we move around the world.
This year, we’re asking every one of our readers with the right to vote to exercise it. Here’s our primer on getting to the polls and the issues that most impact travel.
How to vote
Leading up to every election, consider this your basic checklist:
Register to vote at vote.org. If you have recently moved, find rules on updating your voter registration at usa.gov.
Decide how you will vote. Options include in-person on Election Day, by mail, and at an early voting site.
Mark down important deadlines. Deadlines for registering and requesting a mail-in ballot have passed in some states, others remain open; find rules for your state here. In 2020, election day is November 3. Mail-in ballot deadlines vary by state.
Figure out what will be on the ballet. You can look up your ballot, based on where you live, via Ballotpedia. Expect to vote for representatives at various levels of government, and propositions in some states, in addition to presidential candidates.
Do your research. In the month leading up to the election, research the people and propositions on your ballot and decide in advance how you plan to vote. You are allowed to bring notes into the voting booth, but only some states allow you to reference your phone. Guides like this one can help.
The issues to pay attention to
While few policies play out in a silo, there are three major areas for travelers to keep an eye on: environmental policy, border and immigration law, and economic plans that will impact the travel industry. Here’s where the different presidential candidates, and their parties, stand.
Protecting the environment means protecting the places you love to visit—the glaciers in Alaska, the wildlife in the Amazon, the Great Barrier Reef, Venice, Italy. These destinations are among those most impacted by climate change, rapidly and often irreversibly.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrat presidential candidate, and vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris, have put forward a sweeping clean energy plan, with the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions nationwide by 2050. A shift to clean energy in the automotive industry is designed to create 1 million new jobs. Also addressed is environmental justice, with 40 percent of Biden’s clean energy plan investments going toward minority and low-income communities who are more deeply impacted by climate change and pollution. His plan also talks about protecting natural spaces by establishing national parks and monuments, and banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.
Republican candidate President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have said that clean water and air are priorities, though Trump has also denied and played down the fact that climate change is caused by human pollution and has rejected scientific consensus on the subject. While in office, Trump has worked to increase U.S. production of oil and natural gas, which directly contributes to climate change. This year, Trump officially pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, under which nearly 200 nations had agreed to collaborate on cutting greenhouse emissions. (Biden plans to rejoin the accord if elected.) This summer, Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act, written by Democrat representative of South Carolina Joe Cunningham, which is some of the largest land conservation legislation in a generation. Earlier in his term, he used executive orders to shrink national parks (in 2017 the size of Bears Ears National Monument was cut by 85 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante was reduced by half, as part of a larger effort for fewer restrictions and more development on public lands).
Border control and immigration
Humans deserve the right to travel, but moving freely through the world is a privilege not equally shared. From a human rights standpoint, supporting refugees, accessible immigration processes, and just border patrol practices are essential to being a member of the global community. Remember that the closure of borders and the restrictions we impose on visitors from other countries are often reciprocated. When the U.S. imposes hefty visa fees or travel bans, for example, countries we want to visit do the same in return. Consider how Cuba travel has opened and closed to Americans, based on U.S. relations with Cuba (often shifting from one presidency to the next). Or, perhaps, how Europe has begun reopening to travelers, but Americans are still barred from entering, as the U.S. continues to keep a travel ban on E.U. members in place.
Biden’s immigration platform is centered on “welcoming” immigrants to the U.S. The plan adds more effective border screening, with improvements to aging infrastructure through new cameras, X-ray machines, and cross-agency collaboration. His plans focus on re-implementing policies Biden supported under President Obama, many which have been rolled back under President Trump, while also ending new policies put in place by Trump. In his first 100 days in office, Biden plans to end family separation at our borders (which is still taking place), to roll back restrictions that hinder asylum access for members of the LGBTQ community, to redirect funds currently being used for the border wall to invest in screening infrastructure at out ports of entry, and to end travel bans like the “Muslim ban,” which blocks travelers from a handful of countries from entering the U.S.
President Trump’s 2016 campaign relied heavily on the idea of “building a wall” between the U.S. and Mexico. Though there have long been walls along stretches of the border, he has been focused on building a larger wall, which would run 576 miles and cost an estimated $20 million per mile. So far, construction has focused on replacing existing fences, and funds—despite the President’s claims that Mexico would pay for it—have come from congressional appropriations and a reallocated $10 billion Trump moved from the Defense Department. In addition to focusing on this wall, he aims to restrict overall immigration and access for asylees. During the pandemic, Trump has limited the distribution of visas, including work visas, for foreign nationals. Trump has also re-imposed travel and trade restrictions on Cuba that the Obama administration had loosened.
Having a healthy economy and low unemployment rates sets more Americans up with the means to travel. Economic plans, and how they may impact the travel brands we love, can change the industry in one fell swoop. The strength of the dollar abroad greatly impacts what we can afford—and where we can afford to go.
Insurmountable revenue losses have hit hotel brands, cruise lines, airlines, and more due to COVID-19. Tour guides and those who run boutique travel companies have been completely out of work. The current stimulus talks are a key indicator on where each party stands when it comes to supporting the people who make travel possible for us.
Back in mid-May, House Democrats wrote and passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion stimulus package. It was not until September that Senate Republicans responded with a bill of their own, significantly less at $650 billion, before Trump announced on October 6 that he was ending the negotiations, which have since resumed anew. Airlines for America, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and the U.S. Travel Association, which collectively represent most major travel brands, reacted to stalls in stimulus talks this month, saying that they are in dire need of stimulus funds now to save jobs.
The U.S. Dollar Index, which tracks the U.S. dollar against major currencies including the euro and Chinese yen, is down three percent this year (what CNN calls a “fairly big move in the normally sleepy world of currencies”), after having fallen more than seven percent since Trump’s inauguration. While spending big on stimulus efforts (expected of Biden) would traditionally be the type of move to make the dollar drop, some market strategists argue that the dollar has been hurt by Trump’s ongoing trade wars, and that a Biden “sanity premium,” as coined by Marcus Ashworth for Bloomberg, would help the dollar stabilize with more conventional trade relations expected.
You can find more information on their websites: JoeBiden.com and DonaldJTrump.com.
Why it’s important to pay attention to propositions
Voters in 26 states, plus Washington, D.C., will have the option to vote on individual propositions or measures as well, some of which touch on the above issues. There are many guides from local media outlets that break these propositions down, which can be found by searching by state. For a holistic look at these issues, we suggest reading several guides, and even, yes, scanning the comments when possible. Few propositions are as they appear, and understanding critiques can be helpful.
Here are a few proposition guides to get you started:
Arizona: Citizens for Clean Elections guide
California: Los Angeles Times’s video guide
Colorado: Conservation Colorado’s guide
Florida: The Orlando Sentinel’s guide
You can also find guides for every state eligible on Voto Latino, Voting While Black, Native Vote, Vote 411 (from the League of Women Voters), and Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote.
Most importantly, please turn out and vote.