Want a Real Election This Fall? Enact Vote-by-Mail.

Mail-in voting could be crucial to a safe and fair election this fall.

In These Times EditorsMay 20, 2020

(Illustration by Terry LaBan)

vote • by • mail
noun

1. Bal­lot-cast­ing by post, away from crowd­ed polling places 

Wis­con­sin vot­ers had to choose between mak­ing their voice heard and keep­ing [them­selves] safe. No Amer­i­can should ever have to make that choice.” —Michelle Oba­ma on Wis­con­sin’s Pan­dem­ic Pri­ma­ry

In oth­er words, the new nor­mal for elec­tions dur­ing a pandemic?

In a sane world, yes, all remain­ing 2020 elec­tions should be con­duct­ed by mail for pub­lic health rea­sons. But that doesn’t stop our pres­i­dent from claim­ing that vote-by-mail is RIPE for FRAUD.” (Iron­i­cal­ly, Trump cast his Flori­da pri­ma­ry bal­lot by mail this year.) In April, Wisconsin’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nor pushed for a post­poned and com­plete­ly mail-in pri­ma­ry due to the risk of in-per­son vot­ing amid the pan­dem­ic, but the GOP-con­trolled state leg­is­la­ture pushed back with sup­port from the Wis­con­sin Supreme Court, and in-per­son vot­ing went ahead as planned — turn­ing vote-by-mail into a major par­ti­san issue.

Don’t most states already allow vote-by-mail?

All states allow some form of absen­tee vot­ing and a num­ber of states — includ­ing some with Repub­li­can gov­er­nors, like New Hamp­shire, Mary­land and Ohio — are tak­ing mea­sures to expand vote-by-mail, but more than a dozen require vot­ers to have a spe­cif­ic rea­son they can’t make it to the polls, such as dis­abil­i­ty or trav­el. In Texas, a legal bat­tle over the issue is brew­ing along par­ty lines. 

What are the objec­tions to vote-by-mail?

The objec­tions are most­ly ide­o­log­i­cal, but the claims that vote-by-mail encour­ages fraud and ben­e­fits Democ­rats are empir­i­cal­ly untrue. Anoth­er objec­tion involves the bur­den put on states. Expand­ing vote-by-mail in time for Novem­ber will require some states to quick­ly adopt new soft­ware and staff, some­thing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment can (and should) help with. The lat­est coro­n­avirus relief bill allo­cates $400 mil­lion to states for elec­tion secu­ri­ty, which could be used to expand vote-by-mail pro­grams (though many Repub­li­can-con­trolled state leg­is­la­tures have been busy with vot­er sup­pres­sion mea­sures since at least 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down part of the Vot­ing Rights Act). 

How do we make sure we actu­al­ly get to vote in November?

A rapid tran­si­tion to vote-by-mail elec­tions may cause some con­fu­sion at first, so elec­tion offi­cials will need to make appro­pri­ate accom­mo­da­tions. The Bren­nan Cen­ter esti­mates that secur­ing the 2020 elec­tion against Covid-19 could cost up to $2 bil­lion, most­ly to print and post bal­lots while keep­ing vot­ers informed. Vot­ing-rights experts are not call­ing for an exclu­sive­ly vote-by-mail sys­tem in 2020, how­ev­er, which would effec­tive­ly dis­en­fran­chise some com­mu­ni­ties. Vot­ers on Native Amer­i­can reser­va­tions often rely on far­away post office box­es, for exam­ple, while oth­er vot­ers rely on trans­la­tion ser­vices and vot­ing machines that accom­mo­date dis­abil­i­ties. But offer­ing mail-in bal­lots for all while expand­ing ear­ly vot­ing sites would go a long way toward safe and fair elec­tions — the bare min­i­mum of democ­ra­cy, really.

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