We Need Legislators to Get Behind Vote by Mail
Much like the rest of our lives since the onset of this pandemic, more citizens will likely seek to vote from the comfort of their couches.
It’s time for politicians to get behind this plan and for Congress to provide support as states modernize their election infrastructure and expand absentee voting.
In recent years, some Republicans have resisted a transition to remote voting, citing both election security concerns and political concerns. The president himself has criticized expanded vote by mail (VBM) options, claiming that if we expand VBM then a Republican would never be voted into office again.
This is an unfair characterization associated with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues’ progressive elections priorities and attempts to federalize state and local elections.
In fact, casting ballots by mail is time-tested, secure and does not favor either political party. Voting by mail has been used each election year for decades. According to the Wall Street Journal: “Nearly a quarter of Americans from all states cast mail or absentee ballots in the 2016 general election, according to federal data.”
As it stands 29 states already have “no excuse” vote by mail options, and five states automatically use VBM — including Republican strongholds like Utah. Meanwhile, 16 states require a valid excuse to vote absentee, which means their voters may have to risk their health to vote if their excuse does not meet the defined threshold.
Despite the president’s claims, voting by mail is a very popular proposal among both Republicans and Democrats. According to a recent poll from Reuters, 72 percent of all U.S. adults support required mail in ballots, including 65 percent of Republicans.
Additionally, in a recent Brennan Center/Benenson poll conducted earlier this year, four out of five Americans agree that all states should give the option to vote by mail without an excuse during this coming election.
Critics claim that expanding vote by mail could open a Pandora’s box of voter fraud. Although a serious consideration, data show that these claims may be overblown. In Oregon, a state that has allowed all voters the option to cast their ballots by mail since 1990, election fraud has been nearly nonexistent.
In 2016 alone, more than 2 million voters cast their ballots by mail and of those, fewer than a dozen were deemed illegal. Many Republicans who are reluctant to expand the option to vote by mail go as far as to say that our very own Postal Service is unreliable.
Yet, some states give voters the option to drop ballots off in secure drop boxes and use advanced forms of VBM tracking tools, so voters can see in real time where their vote is. With increased funding, states can improve their infrastructure and make these systems even more secure.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a true partisan debate without an argument along the lines of “voting by mail could mean that non-citizens can vote.”
As a non-citizen going through the naturalization process myself, I can assure you that if I were to even attempt to register to vote, I would have to input my citizenship information, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services number, and Social Security number.
I would not be eligible for any type of ballot — not to mention that I’d also risk going to jail and termination of my naturalization application for even attempting such a feat.
Thankfully this registration process happens long before absentee ballots are mailed, so having non-citizens cast a vote is not something voters (or Republicans) need to worry about.
So, where do we go from here? The CARES Act provided $400 million in election grants to help states prepare for and respond to the coronavirus, but it’s not enough to ensure accessible and secure elections.
According to a recent report, federal funding covers just 10 percent to 20 percent of what is needed to provide vital election safeguards during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Pelosi’s new coronavirus relief wish-list, the HEROES Act, provides substantial elections funding, but it also includes one-size-fits-all mandates that will bury states in red tape.
It’s time for Republicans to support emergency, one-time funding for state elections in the next COVID-19 relief bill. Not only is it possible that this could become a political win, it’s also consistent with Republican values of freedom of choice.
No American should be forced to put his or her health at risk to participate in the democratic process.
Thankfully, our legislators have the power to make voting easy, accessible and safe.