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Detroit – Joe Biden has hired a national director for voter protection, a role his campaign says will focus broadly on voter rights, including the disenfranchisement of people of color amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campaign said Rachana Desai Martin will join its legal team, serving also as senior counsel. Martin, who has a strong background in voter protection work, previously worked as chief operating officer of the Democratic National Committee and the DNC’s director of civic engagement and voter protection.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted people of color, especially black Americans who represent an outsized number of infections and deaths. An Associated Press analysis last month found more than one-third of those who have died are African American.

The push for voter protection rights has only intensified in recent weeks, after some primary elections, including Milwaukee’s on April 7, sparked concern that voters were forced to wait in long lines to cast their ballots. Some health officials have warned the coronavirus could spread at polling places.

Several states are looking at remote voting possibilities. Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said last week that all registered Michigan voters were sent absentee ballot applications. The move drew the ire of President Donald Trump, who threatened to hold up federal funding.

Separately, the Republican National Committee and other Republican groups filed a lawsuit against California to try to stop the state from mailing absentee ballots to voters ahead of the November election.

Voter protection will play a central role in Biden’s overall election strategy, the campaign said, noting that several states over the past few years have passed laws relating to voter ID and purges of voter rolls that could make it harder for people to vote. The campaign said it also expects significant disinformation campaigns targeted at potential voters.

Last year, Georgia made national headlines when it purged nearly 309,000 voter registrations from the state’s voting rolls.

An AP poll from late April found that Americans’ support for mail-in voting has increased amid concerns about the safety of polling places during the coronavirus pandemic, but a wide partisan divide suggests Trump’s public campaign against vote by mail may be resonating with his Republican backers.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that Democrats are now much more likely than Republicans to support their state conducting elections exclusively by mail, 47 percent to 29 percent.

In 2018, about half as many Democrats were in favor, and there was little difference in the views of Democrats and Republicans on the question.

Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi, Hannah Fingerhut and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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