With everyone’s attention focused on stay-at-home orders and staying healthy, it’s hard to focus on events that are months away.
But now is the time to ensure this fall’s election runs smoothly and that voters will not have to choose between their health and their right to vote. Minnesota’s primary election is Aug. 11 followed by the general election on Nov. 3.
We don’t know what the public health situation will be in late summer or fall, but officials should act now to organize elections so it’s easy for everyone to vote. If we’ve learned anything from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that a failure to look several steps ahead can be deadly.
At the state and national level, legislation that would expand early or absentee voting and allow mail-in ballots has been proposed.
In St. Paul, Secretary of State Steve Simon urges temporary, one-time changes to elections including mailing each registered voter a ballot. A witness signature would be required for voting. Among the other changes, Simon wants to change the location of polling places, many of which are in vulnerable locations such as senior care facilities.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced legislation to promote mail-in and early voting nationwide. Her bill would ensure voters have 20 days of early voting in all states, require that all mail-in ballots submitted during 21 days leading to an election be counted and ensure all voters have the option to request absentee ballots.
Voting by mail is not a new idea. Oregonians have voted by mail for more than 20 years. Colorado, Hawaii, Utah and Washington conduct all elections by mail. At least 21 other states have laws that allow certain smaller elections, such as school board contests, to be conducted by mail.
Republicans generally oppose ideas to make voting easier and have for years tried to suppress the vote with ideas such as requiring a photo ID and limiting the number of polling places so people are discouraged by long lines. Conveniently, these measures are targeted at people of color, younger people and poorer people.
As Yale history professor David W. Blight wrote in the New York Times, “Political minorities – today’s Republican Party, antebellum slaveholders, Gilded Age oligarchs or rural states empowered disproportionately by the Electoral College – have always feared and suppressed the expansion of both the right and the access to the right to vote. There is no Republican majority in America, except on Election Days.”
Republicans claim these measures are needed to address voter fraud. The facts don’t back up the claim. Studies done by multiple nonpartisan groups have failed year after to year find any widespread voter fraud.
An expansive study in 2017 from the Brennan Center for Justice found the rate of voter fraud in the United States was somewhere between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent.
It’s true that voting-by-mail poses some risks that don’t exist with in-person voting. But the most recent example of absentee ballot fraud involved Republican operatives in North Carolina who rigged an election for the House of Representatives in 2018.
Studies of vote by mail in Colorado and Washington show there’s little advantage to one party but vote by mail does increase turnout.
Donald Trump fears any attempt to make voting easier and safer but it’s not because he’s worried about fraud, it’s because he’s worried about losing.
In a moment of candor, he admitted as much. Speaking about proposals such as mail-in voting he said “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump said this with a straight face while acknowledging he mails in his Florida ballot.
Adopting mail-in ballots, expanding the time for voting and allowing absentee voting without providing a reason will result in a safer, fairer election.