No one knows how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the safety of in-person voting in the 2020 election. But we certainly know that failure to prepare now for massive mail balloting …
No one knows how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the safety of in-person voting in the 2020 election. But we certainly know that failure to prepare now for massive mail balloting will force voters to choose between their civil rights and their health, should the virus still be around (as most health experts predict).
An April poll found that 72% of all U.S. adults, including 65% of Republicans, support a requirement for mail-in ballots in November to protect voters from the coronavirus. While most Americans would likely choose to vote by mail, states should provide early, in-person voting options.
President Donald Trump’s complaints aside, mailing a ballot to every registered voter is already well-established in some states and legal in all of them. In the last two federal elections, one out of every four Americans cast a mail ballot. In five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — mail balloting has been the primary method of voting. Three other states allow counties to opt in to mail balloting. Another 28 offer no-excuse absentee voting.
To transition efficiently and securely, states without universal mail ballots need guidance. Also needed is federal funding to expand vote-by-mail infrastructure, educate voters, and preserve a functioning Postal Service.
There are no grounds for claiming that mail ballots will encourage fraud. States that have adopted universal vote-by-mail have shown it can be done securely. Oregon has sent out more than 100 million ballots since 2000, with just a dozen cases of proven fraud. Washington had zero prosecutions for ballot fraud and Colorado had one since those states adopted a 100% vote-by-mail system.
Ballot fraud on a scale that would sway an election is detected by automated validation systems, according to a University of Florida elections scholar. In North Carolina, a campaign manager defrauded voters by collecting unfilled ballots and filling them in to favor Congressional Republican candidate Mark Harris. The fraud was detected, and the Board of Elections refused to certify the result.
Anyone worried about tampering with private mailboxes can easily return their ballot to a secure drop-off site. Two-thirds of voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington returned their ballots to some physical location, such as a drop box or local election office. Half of those who returned their ballots by mail, dropped them off at a U.S. Post Office or neighborhood mailbox.
For opponents of all-mail ballots, the real fear is partisan bias, also refuted by the evidence. Nationwide, about the same share of Republicans and Democrats voted by mail in 2016. It is remarkably neutral.
In the 2018 election, vote-by-mail increased voter participation in Colorado by 8 percentage points for each political party. The turnout of independents increased by 12%.
In our democracy, representative government is every citizen’s right. But only our votes can fulfill and preserve that right. Voting is a civic duty, like obeying traffic laws. The right to drive a motor vehicle is predicated on driving responsibly. To inhibit any citizen from voting is analogous to making it harder for them to drive safely. Just as clear-cut traffic laws make for safer highways, a transparent and convenient election system will facilitate a more just democracy.
Why would America, with one of the lowest voter participation rates in the industrialized world, make voting burdensome or unsafe while Belgium, with the highest voter turnout, makes it compulsory? We must not allow partisanship, demagoguery, or disdain for democracy to strip us of our constitutional right to vote.
Please ask Wyoming’s Congressional delegation to support funding for the Postal Service and for states not yet equipped for full-scale voting by mail.
For a more in-depth analysis of this issue, visit the Wyoming Rising website via www.tinyurl.com/ybv8ucco.
Ronn Smith, Wyoming Rising