An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Make Election Mail Free
Supporting free, fair, and accessible elections is a basic duty of government, so let’s fulfill that duty by covering the costs of voting by mail
BY MARK JAMISON
SavethePostOffice: A common thread that runs throughout the history of the United States is the expansion of the franchise.
Early in our history the right to vote was limited to white males, often with strict property qualifications. By the time of Andrew Jackson, the franchise had extended to white males generally. While the primary reason for the Civil War was the elimination of slavery, the logical conclusion of that conflict was the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited denial of the franchise based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Nineteenth Amendment extended the franchise to women, and the Snyder Act of 1924 extended the vote to Native Americans by granting them full citizenship rights. The Twenty-sixth Amendment extended the voting age to eighteen-year-olds, acknowledging that if one was old enough to fight and die for their country they were old enough to exercise the franchise.
The fundamental premise of our Constitution is that sovereignty lies within the entity known as We the People. Voting, the exercise of our basic right to choose our leaders, should be our most cherished right because it enshrines voice and participation granting the dignity of self-government.
And yet for all its acknowledged value and importance there have still been reactionary and revanchist powers that sought to limit and confine the franchise. The powerful and elite rarely willingly share their wealth and power. Each step in extending the franchise was met with resistance.
Ninety-five years after passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, the 1965 Voting Rights Act finally enshrined mechanisms to fulfill the vision of participation that is the cornerstone of American Democracy. The VRA was renewed by Congress several times, most recently in 2006 when it passed in the House by a vote of 390 – 33 and in the Senate unanimously. And yet elements, small recalcitrant elements of our society, still begrudge this most fundamental and basic of rights. In an infamous decision that stands with Dred Scott as among the most unjust acts of the Supreme Court the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision eviscerated key parts of the VRA. Predictably the same bad actors who have fought voting rights took the opportunity to find new and effective ways to suppress voting, especially among minority communities.
Now we have a president who, fearing he will lose an honest and fair election, takes every opportunity to call into question the integrity of our elections and voting practices. While we struggle as a nation with a deadly pandemic, this president has done everything in his power to call into question an obvious solution that will make voting safer, easier, and more accessible. That solution is voting by mail.
Several states already vote exclusively by mail and every state has some provision for mail voting even if limited to excuse-required absentee ballots. In this time of pandemic, voting by mail makes sense and we should make every effort to assist states in providing vote by mail.
The president has charged, without evidence, proof, or data, that voting by mail is fraught with fraud, but like much of what he says his allegations are self-interested flailing lacking substance or integrity. Worse yet, his attack on voting by mail have been fully aided and abetted by the Republican party (as discussed in this Politico article).
The plain and simple fact is that our election system shows very little evidence of in person voting fraud and virtually no evidence of significant amounts of fraud connected to voting by mail. To refute the baseless charges of a proven liar is to dignify the rantings of a desperate man.
The problem is that the president’s views on voting by mail may be having an effect on the operations of the Postal Service. There have been numerous reports that mail is being delayed as a result of changes in delivery procedures implemented by the new Postmaster General in June, and some have charged that this is happening to mess with voting by mail. The Postmaster General has naturally denied this.
Then there’s the recent report from The Capitol Forum, a Washington lobbying and reporting shop, describing a proposal by USPS leadership to raise the postage on ballots sent by states to voters from 20 cents to 55 cents a piece. A USPS spokesperson has flatly denied this, telling Kevin Kosar in an email, “The baseless assertion that we intend to raise prices in advance of the upcoming Presidential election in order to restrict voting by mail is wholly without merit, and frivolous.” But there’s probably more to this story.
While ballots being returned by voters to election centers travel as First Class mail, when ballots are sent out to voters they sometimes go at the cheaper — and slower — Marketing Mail rate (about $.20). The Capitol Forum memo could be based on a misunderstanding. It’s possible that postal leadership is telling election officials they should send out ballots at the First Class rate in order for them to be delivered in time for voters to return them by the state’s deadline.
That explanation jibes with a recent article in the Guardian. Tammy Patrick, a voting-by-mail expert at the Democracy Fund, says that in the past, the Postal Service “bent over backwards” to deliver ballots in a timely way close to election deadlines, but now it’s giving out mixed messages about whether or not they would go to such lengths to ensure delivery this fall. USPS officials have “signaled recently that they are going to more strictly enforce the delivery times guaranteed by the different classes of mail election officials choose to use for their mailings.” Rather than giving prioritized attention to election mail, says Patrick, the Postal Service is now emphasizing election officials “will get speed for the delivery they pay for.”
There’s more evidence that the Postal Service may be changing its policy on election mail in this OIG report about the 2018 midterms. The report says that management at several mail processing facilities told the OIG that they treated all election mail, regardless of the rate on the envelope, as First Class. That may no longer be the case.
During my postal career it was widely assumed that most of senior management leaned Republican. But whatever their party affiliation or policy preferences, it was always clear throughout the Postal Service that any mail related to elections including campaign mail was sacrosanct, treated with care and urgency. Many Districts had local offices fill out logs of election mailings in order to ensure they received same day handling regardless of class. Actual election mail, i.e. ballots, were treated with care. There was no excuse to delay this mail, even if there was postage due.
The proper handling of election mail represented the most fundamental function of a national postal network with universal service fulfilling an essential national purpose. More generally, the Postal Service was seen as the property of the American people regardless of political party or persuasion. Whatever else, we were the people’s post office.
How times have changed. From the moment of his election and for the duration of his term, this president has made clear that he is president only for those who agree with him; he welcomes sycophants and excludes everyone else. Moreover, he has shown that he sees the federal government as an extension of him and him alone.
Mr. DeJoy, whatever he may say to the contrary, has made it clear that he works for one man, not the American people. His latest attempts to throw a monkey wrench into the operations of the Postal Service during a pandemic and during what may be the most consequential election this nation has seen are shoddy and pathetic partisanship. He and the BOG should be seen for what they are, quislings and lackeys doing the bidding of a president who has disgraced his office and Constitutional order.
At the moment the steps that can be taken to rein in Mr. DeJoy are limited. Schumer and Pelosi met with the Postmaster General a few days ago and clearly tried to exert some pressure, but how much leverage do they have? Perhaps Congress will insert language in the upcoming stimulus bill holding DeJoy accountable and directing the maintenance of delivery standards with special attention to election mail. The Postal Regulatory Commission could also do more to exercise its responsibilities for oversight but will probably remain on the sidelines.
So what of the future?
Instead of looking at election mail as another way for the Postal Service to bring in revenue, how about if we recognize the obvious – the USPS is an essential infrastructure designed to serve the American people? Anything that makes elections safer, simpler, and more accessible supports the fundamental right to vote.
So let’s make all election mail free. Some states already pre-pay postage for voters to return their ballots, but most do not, and states must still cover the costs of sending out the ballot applications and ballots. State and local governments, boards of election, and voters should not have to worry about the costs for voting by mail. Supporting free, fair, and accessible elections is a basic duty of government, so let’s fulfill that duty.
Some will ask, what about the cost? Who’s going to pay for election mail? Isn’t the Postal Service already losing billions of dollars? How can we afford to let election mail go for free?
The simple answer to that is that the Postal Service is, as I never tire of repeating, an essential national infrastructure. The value of the Postal Service is not in the revenue it brings in but in all the good it does for the nation. As discussed in this Lawfare article, the Postal Service is essential to national security — responding to natural disasters, deterring mail crimes, and defending against biological attacks. The Postal Service also generates economic opportunity for the whole country by providing a universally accessible and far reaching network that has myriad uses.
Another value of the Postal Service is in the jobs it provides, at its height 800,000 workers, with good benefits. Those jobs have supported economic development in every community in the United States. They have given disabled veterans a chance to be economically independent, and they have allowed people of color and the economically disadvantaged to find a step up into the middle class.
If we can afford billions in so-called Homeland Security and hundreds of billions in defense spending, then we can find a few billion to support a strong universal postal network that returns value and security benefits that far exceed its costs.
We should create a dedicated Election Trust Fund that encourages vote by mail and to support state and local governments in providing free, fair, and accessible elections. Since we don’t want to rely on yearly or periodic appropriations from Congress to maintain the fund (that’s actually what got the old Post Office department in trouble), Congress should seed the fund with enough money to cover the elections through two presidential cycles. Mechanisms to refresh the fund can be devised through support of the states, perhaps related to population with incentives for higher percentages of registered voters and higher voter turnout. Other dedicated funding sources can be identified.
The specifics are less important than the basic idea. Let’s find the political will and the common sense to support the most essential right in our democracy, the right to vote. At the same time, let us support an institution as old as the Republic and just as important and useful today as it has ever been.
Our country will not achieve greatness through angry exclusionary rhetoric that treats our national assets like personal play toys. It will do so only by aspiring towards the promise of our founding documents, by striving towards principles of equality, justice, inclusion, honesty, and the dignity of every American. Supporting a national network that binds the nation together and facilitates the right and duty to vote would be a step towards greatness.
Mark Jamison is a retired postmaster who serves as an advisor, resident guru, and regular contributor to Save the Post Office. His previous posts can be found here. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo: George Frey/Getty Images)
Voting by Mail Is Crucial for Democracy
Especially amid the pandemic, it’s the surest path to a more inclusive, more accurate and more secure election.
New York Times Editorial Board: For a man who votes by mail himself, Donald Trump is strangely obsessed with the idea that it is the most dangerous method of casting a ballot.
The president was at it again this week. “Rigged Election,” he tweeted of New York’s well-publicized struggles with counting mail-in votes. “Same thing would happen, but on massive scale, with USA.”
Voting by mail is a “catastrophic disaster,” he later said, “an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race.” Any election conducted by mail would be “INACCURATE AND FRAUDULENT.”
Finally, the hammer: “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
In a word, Mr. President: No
The election will not be delayed — because the president can’t legally delay it. Its date is set by federal law, as is the date on which the presidential electors must cast their ballots. Then there’s the backstop of Inauguration Day, set by the Constitution as Jan. 20.
Mr. Trump says things like this often enough that it can be easy to brush him off. He even claimed that the 2016 election, which he won, was rigged. But the president’s words, however misleading, carry weight. So it is necessary to say it again: Especially in the midst of a raging pandemic, voting by mail is the surest path to a more inclusive, more accurate and more secure election.
The good news is that the primary season gave states a chance to run their elections with far more mail-in ballots than usual, and in many places the system worked well. But there were multiple high-profile examples of mail voting gone wrong. In Wisconsin, thousands of absentee ballots were requested and never received. In New Jersey, 10 percent of mail ballots were thrown out for arriving too late or for being otherwise deficient. In Pennsylvania, tens of thousands of absentee votes were either not cast or not counted, especially among voters who requested their absentee ballots closer to the election.
Mr. Trump and his allies have exploited these bungles to the hilt, claiming that they reveal how dangerous it is to vote by mail. Ignore them. Voting by mail — or absentee voting, which Mr. Trump pretends is something different even though it isn’t — has risks like any other method, but overall it is safe and accurate. So safe and accurate, in fact, that in five states most or all voters use it, and in three other states more than half do. In those states, elections go off without a hitch.
That’s why as soon as the pandemic hit, it was clear that expanding access to mail voting across the country would be essential for the November election to succeed. Voting experts pleaded with Congress to supply the necessary funds to help states with less experience in processing absentee ballots.
The pandemic will change the way millions cast ballots. Here’s the state of absentee voting in the U.S.
Washington Post: The coronavirus pandemic is set to change the way millions of Americans can vote in November, as states expand access to mail-in voting as a safer alternative to in-person voting.
As of now, nearly 180 million Americans who are eligible to vote would be able to cast a ballot by mail. Of those, 22 million live in states that will accept fear of the coronavirus as an excuse to vote absentee, or have switched to become “no excuse” states.
Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia already allowed anyone to vote absentee. But many of these places are making the process easier. California will start proactively mailing ballots to registered voters, joining universal vote-by-mail states such as Colorado. Many states will send every registered voter an absentee-ballot application.
These types of statewide expansions affect another 63 million eligible voters. In some states like Nebraska, individual counties are planning to send mail-in voting applications in the absence of a statewide directive.
For voters in nine states, in-person voting remains the only option unless they can provide an approved reason not related to fear of the coronavirus. Traditional absentee excuses include military deployments or illness.
The partisan division over vote-by-mail access is not always clear-cut. Several blue states have used universal mail-in voting for years, but so has Utah. Many Southern states disallow fear of the coronavirus as an absentee excuse, but so does Connecticut and New York.
In response to the coronavirus, nearly half of all states expanded access to mail ballots for their primaries, either by allowing fear of the coronavirus as an reason or proactively sending an application or ballot to every registered voter. Fewer have taken action for the general election, as the move has become increasingly partisan and subject to litigation.
President Trump has made numerous unfounded claims that mail-in voting will create widespread abuse and fraud. His suspicions are out of step with the views of election experts and many within his own party, who are building large-scale vote-by-mail programs. A recent analysis by The Washington Post found only 372 cases of potential fraud out of roughly 14.6 million ballots cast by mail in 2016 and 2018.
Only a quarter of voters used mailed ballots in 2018, and they mostly resided in a handful of states. Nearly everyone who voted in Oregon, the first state to issue all ballots by mail in 2000, did so by mail. But in most states, fewer than 10 percent of voters did.
Even in states that haven’t made absentee voting easier, the number of ballot requests is still expected to spike. To meet this challenge, local election officials will have to overcome numerous hurdles with little time and money to spare. They must acquire large volumes of specialized envelopes and paper. Additional staff, and in some cases machines, are necessary to open, sort and tabulate postal ballots and verify signatures. This staff needs to be trained, and voters need to be educated on the process.
These unexpected expenditures come as the coronavirus pandemic has pummeled local budgets and hit a corner of government — election administration — that’s been underfunded for decades.
“They operate without the staff they need in the normal or they don’t have enough equipment in the normal,” says Amber McReynolds, chief executive of Vote at Home, a nonpartisan nonprofit advocating for and advising on how to conduct elections by mail. “None of this is a new problem, but it’s exacerbated in a pandemic.”
For postal-first states such as Hawaii and Oregon, it took years to fully adapt, according to Tammy Patrick, a former election official who is now a senior adviser at the nonprofit Democracy Fund. A timeline for election officials put together by the Department of Homeland Security showed that the process for expanding mail-in voting should have begun in April. Patrick says it’s still possible for states to adapt, but “time is running out to make any of these changes.”
Stacey Abrams, Soledad O’Brien and More Join #MailedIt Tweetathon to Save the USPS and Mail-in Voting!
Today, on National Postal Worker Day, Samantha Bee, host of TBS’ Emmy Award-winning Full Frontal launched the #MailedIt campaign, which is a social movement to save the United States Postal Service (USPS), and it’s currently trending #1 on Twitter!
Key voices in culture including Stacey Abrams, Soledad O’Brien, April Reign, Phoebe Robinson, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, Khloe Kardashian, Bette Midler, Jessica Pimentel, Tony Goldwyn, April Reign, Joy Behar and more have already Tweeted Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin (@stevenmnuchin1) and asked him to bail out the post office, which is in danger of closing in October if they don’t receive government funding. If this happens, this will severely affect the upcoming 2020 presidential election due to the impact it will have on the delivery of mail-in ballots.
For every Tweet sent, using the hashtag #MailedIt, Full Frontal will purchase a stamp in support of the USPS (up to 100K stamps) in hopes of saving the American institution from closing. We’d love for you to write a story or post to social.
Watch Stacey Abrams on Joy Reid’s show here.
Trump’s Attacks on Vote-by-Mail Worry Some Election Officials
PEW: There is growing concern among election officials and experts that the increasingly partisan debate around voting by mail could sow doubt in the results of the presidential election.
For months, President Donald Trump has been one of the loudest opponents to vote by mail, which experts agree is a safe alternative to in-person voting during the novel coronavirus outbreak. There is little evidence it leads to voter fraud or benefits one party over another.
“Mail-in ballots are a very dangerous thing,” Trump told reporters last month, despite evidence to the contrary. “They’re subject to massive fraud.” Trump has voted by mail several times, including in Florida’s primary earlier this year.
By attacking mail-in voting with unsubstantiated claims, some officials and experts fear, the president’s outbursts could threaten the integrity of the general election by dissuading voters from participating and diminishing Americans’ trust in the legitimacy of the results.
His narrative has consequences, said Marian Schneider, president of the election security nonprofit Verified Voting. It could lead to some Americans doubting the outcome of the November election, she said.
Because of an expected surge in mail-in ballots, election officials will need more time to count ballots, which could delay the final results, she said. Add to that months of partisan attacks on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and the country could be heading for trouble.
“The narrative that sows doubt in the election results is very destructive to our democracy as a whole,” Schneider said. “It undermines the democratic institution of voting.”
There is a troubling partisan pattern developing over this issue, said Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine. Partisanship could complicate the work of state and local election officials preparing for November.
“When you add on top of these administrative challenges that we’re operating in a charged partisan environment,” he said, “I’m really worried.” Read more.
NPR: Why Is Voting By Mail (Suddenly) Controversial? Here’s What You Need To Know
NPR: Casting a ballot by mail isn’t a new way to vote, but it is getting fresh attention as the coronavirus pandemic upends daily life.
The voting method is quickly becoming the norm and quickly becoming politically charged as some Republicans — specifically President Trump — fight against the mail-voting expansion happening nationwide.
Here are answers to key questions about mail ballots and the controversy around them.
- What is mail voting?
- Which states are offering mail voting?
- What do Americans think?
- What is the argument against it?
- What are the facts on fraud?
- Is nationwide mail voting possible?
The pandemic has already altered how tens of millions of Americans can cast their ballots this year
Washington Post: The coronavirus pandemic is rapidly transforming this year’s elections, changing the way tens of millions of people cast ballots and putting thousands of election officials at the center of a pitched political fight as they rush to adapt with limited time and funding.
This striking shift in the voting landscape encompasses nearly every part of the country, red and blue states alike. But with November less than six months away, the largely bipartisan wave of change has been hit by political turbulence as President Trump raises unfounded doubts about the security of voting by mail and threatens to punish states where Democratic leaders are facilitating it.
Battles over voting in the age of the coronavirus are defining the 2020 presidential cycle, with intense partisan fights over the rules erupting in states such as Wisconsin and Texas. The outcome will shape how easy it will be for people to cast their ballots in November — and in some cases, whether certain mail-in votes will be counted.
As more than two dozen legal battles wend their way through the courts, local and state officials are racing to figure out how to administer the election amid the health crisis, propelled by an unyielding calendar.
“There’s so much debate in Washington, particularly as a result of comments from the president, around the questions: ‘Are people going to be voting by mail?’ ‘Should they be allowed to vote by mail?’ And the fact of the matter is, they’re doing it,” said Larry Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“The election officials have to essentially create a new infrastructure for handling that,” he added. “They prepared for one election and got another.”
This year, more than 168 million of the nation’s nearly 198 million registered voters are eligible to vote absentee in either midyear contests or the general election.
In the fall, the country could see a huge surge in mail voting compared with 2016, when more than 33 million ballots were cast absentee or sent in by mail for the general election, about 24 percent of the vote, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
The process has already been messy and costly, posing challenges for local election clerks, the U.S. Postal Service and voters trying to navigate the shifting rules.
The next big test will come June 2, when eight states and the District of Columbia are holding primaries. At the same time, many jurisdictions are face looming deadlines to order ballot materials and specialty equipment for the general election. ,,,
Eleven states that require an excuse to vote absentee have announced that voters may cast ballots by mail for the primaries this year if they are concerned in-person voting will make them sick. These decisions temporarily make voting by mail accessible to more than 40 millionpeople.
Another 12 states and the District of Columbia are proactively sending absentee ballot applications or request forms to voters specifically because of the coronavirus. Roughly 34.7 million people will receive the forms, according to state figures on registered and active voters.
In the most controversial move, four states — Maryland, Montana, Nevada and New Jersey — are proactively sending absentee ballots for the primaries to approximately 11.3 million voters in the coming months. They join five states that already mail ballots to voters. Read more.
Why We Need Postal Democracy
David Cole, New York Review of Books: Nothing symbolizes democracy like long lines at the polls on election day. They represent a collective act of faith, as chances are virtually nil that any one of the votes we cast over our lifetime will determine the outcome of an election. They remind us that many of our fellow citizens have had to fight to stand in such lines. And because long lines are also often a sign that election officials have failed to provide sufficient voting opportunities, they illustrate the tenacity of citizens who insist on casting their ballots even when the government seems more interested in obstructing than in facilitating the franchise.
Not since the civil rights era, when African-Americans in the South braved death threats to exercise their right to vote, has a voting line embodied this commitment more profoundly than on April 7 in Milwaukee. People lined up around the block, trying to maintain six-foot social-distancing intervals, to vote in what was a relatively unimportant election. At issue were only the all-but-concluded Democratic presidential primary, a single state supreme court seat, and a small number of lower state and local offices. At a time when their governor and mayor—both Democrats—had instructed them to shelter in place, these Milwaukee citizens had come out to stand in public for hours in order to exercise their constitutional right. The city, which ordinarily operates 180 polling places, opened only five, as poll workers balked at showing up. At least forty voters and poll workers may have contracted the coronavirus as a result.
It was government officials who compelled them to risk their health, and possibly their lives, to vote: specifically, the Wisconsin state legislature, the justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the justices of the United States Supreme Court—or more accurately, the Republican members of those institutions. The Republican-gerrymandered state legislature blocked Governor Tony Evers’s efforts to delay the election until June or to conduct an all-mail election. When the governor invoked his emergency powers to unilaterally suspend in-person voting until June, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, on a party-line 4–2 vote, nullified his order, proclaiming that he lacked the authority to take such action. For their part, all of the court’s justices voted absentee; they weren’t risking a trip to the polls.
The night before the election, the US Supreme Court stepped in to stay a federal district court ruling that had merely extended by six days the deadline for the state to receive absentee ballots, including those postmarked after election day. The district court imposed this modest extension when it became clear that thousands of voters would not receive their absentee ballots until after the election, because an unprecedented surge in requests for such ballots overwhelmed the Wisconsin electoral system. The US Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed majority declared that the district court’s order violated the principle that courts “ordinarily” should not alter the rules for elections shortly before election day. The majority also noted, repeatedly, that the plaintiffs—who included Wisconsin voters, voting rights organizations, and the Democratic National Committee—had not specifically requested this particular relief.
But as Linda Greenhouse commented in The New York Times, there was nothing “ordinary” about this election, which came in what President Trump had predicted would be the worst week of the pandemic. And as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, the plaintiffs had in fact requested that relief at the preliminary injunction hearing—a correction the majority did not even acknowledge, much less dispute. As a result, thousands of Wisconsin residents had to put their health at risk to vote—a risk the US Supreme Court justices, who voted on the case remotely, were unwilling to take themselves. (If you think there’s a pattern here, there is.)
Why was there so much drama over such a minor election? And what does it portend for the momentous election coming in November? The answer is disturbing: in the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans may have discovered the ultimate voter suppression tactic. For years they have sought to erect obstacles to voting, imposing strict voter identification requirements, limiting registration opportunities, purging voter rolls, and opposing early voting—all ostensibly in the name of fighting in-person “voter fraud,” even though there is virtually no evidence that anyone unlawfully impersonates a voter at the polls. Many Republicans believe that low voter turnout favors them, because older and wealthier citizens, disproportionately Republican, vote more regularly than younger and poorer citizens, who tend to favor Democrats. But the suppression tactics the party has previously pursued pale in comparison to fear of contracting a deadly disease, which is certain to deter many people from going to the polls. And that’s apparently how some Republicans like it.
The obvious answer to the problem of how to preserve democracy in a pandemic is to expand voting by mail. Failing to make absentee voting in these circumstances available to all is an impermissible burden on the constitutional right to vote—just as providing only a single polling place for a large district would be. The Supreme Court has declared the right to vote “of the most fundamental significance under our constitutional structure.”1 States must provide adequate opportunities to vote, and when they do not, even if the immediate cause is beyond their control, they violate the Constitution. For example, when a hurricane hit Florida during the last week of voter registration in 2016, the state was constitutionally required to extend the registration deadline.2 The usual deadline was permissible under ordinary circumstances but became unduly onerous in the emergency conditions created by the hurricane. The same rationale holds with respect to rules that restrict voting by mail. They might be reasonable in ordinary times, but not when the alternative is to risk contagion in order to exercise one’s right.
At the moment, five states—Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and Hawaii—conduct their elections almost entirely by mail. Another twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia permit “no-excuse” absentee voting, while the remaining seventeen states and Puerto Rico permit absentee voting only for specific causes, such as being out of state on election day. During the pandemic, absentee voting should be available to all registered voters, without requiring an “excuse.” The coronavirus is, after all, a universal excuse. States should send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, with prepaid return envelopes, to ensure the maximum opportunity to vote. On April 24, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York would do just that.
Yet President Trump has opposed such public health–promoting suggestions. He claims that if we were to adopt voting by mail, “you’d never have another Republican elected in this country again.” The Republican Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives agreed, predicting that voting by mail would be “extremely devastating to Republicans.” That would be the case only if, when more voters’ preferences are counted, there are more votes for Democrats than for Republicans. But that’s precisely how democracy is supposed to work: it’s called “majority rule.” If the only way a party can prevail is by suppressing votes, it shouldn’t win.
In fact, there’s little evidence to back Trump’s assertion that voting by mail favors Democrats. Studies of voting by mail in practice reveal no systemic advantage for either party.3 In the disputed Wisconsin election, The New York Times found that mailed ballots gave a significant advantage to the unexpectedly victorious Democratic candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Jill Karofsky. But some experts believe that may have been because the Democratic Party did a better job in this election of urging its voters to cast ballots by mail.4 Voting by mail may be especially attractive to rural and older voters who have difficulty getting to polling stations—both demographics that tend to skew Republican.5 Trump himself votes by mail, and Republicans have long aggressively urged their voters to do so where it is allowed. In Pennsylvania, for example, the Republican National Committee is calling it “easy, convenient, and secure.”6
It’s not clear at this point how much Trump’s opposition to voting by mail will affect the November election. The most likely swing states—Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona—all permit no-excuse absentee voting already. And many “red” states are already taking steps to make voting by mail easier. Alabama, Indiana, and West Virginia have announced that all voters will be permitted to vote by mail in their upcoming primary elections. West Virginia and Georgia are mailing absentee ballot applications to registered voters. In New Hampshire, which ordinarily limits absentee ballots to those with specific excuses, the Republican governor issued an order permitting anyone to vote by mail not just in the primary but also in November, becoming the first “no-excuse” state to relax its excuse requirements for the general election. Read more.
Few States Are Prepared To Switch To Voting By Mail. That Could Make For A Messy Election
FiveThirtyEight: As with most aspects of our daily lives, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the administration of elections. Several states have already postponed primaries that were scheduled for this spring, and the few in-person elections that have taken place were marred by chaos. But with an election date of November 3 more or less set in stone, how can the general election be conducted safely if the pandemic is still raging in the fall?
Many officials and voters alike think the solution is to conduct the election predominantly by mail — but that’s easier said than done. Converting to a vote-by-mail system is arduous and expensive, and most states simply aren’t set up to smoothly conduct a mail election with their present resources and laws.
Currently, state laws on the use of mail voting are a patchwork quilt. Only five states regularly conduct mail elections by default: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Three more, though, do allow counties to opt into mail voting, and nine more allow certain elections to be conducted by mail — although these are typically low-turnout, local elections, a far cry from the 2020 presidential race.
Another 29 states (plus Washington, D.C.) give voters the option to vote by mail — also known as no-excuse absentee voting — in federal elections, but the burden is on the voter to request her ballot. The remaining 16 states still require voters to provide a valid excuse if they want to vote by mail, although this year, some states may accept concerns around the coronavirus as an excuse. (New Hampshire has already moved to do that for the general election.) Read more.