If Ever There Was a Time for Mail-in Ballots, It is Now (Video)

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to reconsider how we conduct our daily lives, manage our economy, and interact with each other.

After Congress passed a $2 trillion package to help mitigate the economic havoc,  conversations about “universal basic income” (UBI) have resumed.

Another conversation we’ve been hearing lately since we are supposed to be confined at home concerns voting.

Obviously, if we aren’t supposed to congregate in crowds of more than 10 and maintain social distancing, urging voters to show up at the polls is irresponsible.

In a nation with embarrassingly low voter turnout, being ordered to stay home threatens the nomination process, not to mention the general election.

So far Puerto Rico, Georgia, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Kentucky, and New York have already postponed their primary elections.

Some states are urging voters to apply for absentee ballots.

But instead of just temporarily adjusting to meet the current crisis, what if we addressed both the coronavirus’s impact on voting and traditionally anemic voter turnout?

What if we used this crisis as an opportunity to institute real progressive change?

The possibly of voting by mail is one such way to accomplish this.

Those who have voted via absentee ballot already do this.

Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Senate counterpart Ron Wyden introduced “The Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020,” intending to replicate nationwide what their state has practiced since being passed into law in 1998.

The bill calls for $500 million to help states prepare for voter disruptions the coronavirus may inflict.

Wyden and Minn. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also introduced “The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA)” to allow all states 20 days of early voting, counting mail-in ballots submitted during 21 days before an election, and ensuring all voters have the option to submit absentee ballots.

Other states are taking notice.

New York State Senator Jen Metzger (D–Rosendale) has introduced a bill  (S8120) requiring the state board of elections to create a vote-by-mail election plan during emergencies, which would allow state residents to cast via U.S. mail June 2020 ballots should the current crisis continue.

Her plan involves all eligible voters receiving and returning ballots through the mail or delivering them to designated locations–just like Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Utah, and Colorado.

Metzger explained:

“It is just common sense to prepare now if the current public health emergency extends to the June primary and beyond. We need to make sure we have a backup plan in place that protects the health and safety of election workers and voters without sacrificing participation in these important elections.”

Metzger’s office added:

“[The bill] calls attention to the cumbersome nature of the state’s current absentee ballot system, in which voters must first apply to the Board of Elections in order to receive a ballot in the mail. By contrast, in a vote-by-mail system, all eligible voters automatically receive a ballot in the mail without procedural hurdles, and [would be able to] vote by mailing their ballot to the Board of Elections….”

Calling for immediate action, the New York State Elections Commissioners’ Association commented in a press release:

“We are facing critical shortages of inspectors and polling places due to the ongoing public health crisis. Over the next week, BOEs (boards of election) will find it almost impossible to meet mission-critical deadlines for testing machines and preparing ballots because of staff shortages due to the ongoing stay-at-home order.”

New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi also introduced her version

New York is by no means alone.

Wisconsin election clerks report scores of requests for mail-in ballots before next month’s presidential primary.

More than 111,000 Illinois voters have already cast mail-in ballots.

The current system is not conducive to the present situation.

For one thing, there are too many restrictions.

According to The Guardian:

“Every state in the US allows at least some voters to vote by mail, but restrictions vary widely from state to state. Some states, like Washington and Oregon, conduct their elections entirely by mail. Other states allow voters to request an absentee ballot, but set varying deadlines for when the application and ballot must be received. Several states, including those with upcoming primaries, also have longstanding restrictions on who can use a mail-in ballot, risking millions of votes in the upcoming election.”

Some states require absentee ballot voters provide reasons for their desire to vote by mail.

Public health emergency is not one of them.

Detractors claim voting by mail increases chances for “voter fraud.”

Talking Points Memo reports:

“Voting fraud alarmist groups claim that an increase in mail-in voting will lead to rampant, election-swinging criminality. While vote-by-mail fraud is more real than virtually nonexistent in-person voting fraud, it is still rare. That has not stopped these groups from grasping at straws to argue that it will create a cataclysmic problem, like they’ve done time and time again.

Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, explained:

“There is no basis for a spike in actual concern about voter fraud, assuming states get the resources they need and start planning now to make sure the elections are able to run safely and securely.”

In 2008, the Republican party was licking its wounds after the country elected its first African-American president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

So Republicans came up with a strategy: concentrate on 16 states and gerrymander them so badly Democrats have little to no mathematical chance of winning in the 2010 mid-term elections.

But there was another, more insidious strategy.

Republicans knew they couldn’t come right out and criminalize voting, so they devised ways to make casting ballots harder, more inconvenient, frustrating, hoping people would stay home rather than go through all the trouble to practice their civic duty.

That’s when the term “voter fraud” started circulating around right-wing media. Simply accuse random people (mostly immigrants) of voting illegally, and enough “patriots” would rise up in an altruistic fervor to fortify the most fundamental of democratic institutions against those who seek to denigrate it.

Voter fraud, however, is a myth.

Voter suppression is very much alive in America, and Republican states are setting a record for purging voting roles.

A recent study from the Brennan Center for Justice reported in August that, between 2016 and 2018, at least 17 million voters were purged from nationwide voting rolls.

Voting districts with voter discrimination histories have purged 40% beyond the national average.

Republicans do not want people to vote.

This isn’t a personal opinion.

Just listen to what “founding father of the conservative movement,” Paul Weyrich, the  founder of conservative think tanks The Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, had to say at a religious right gathering back in 1980:

The Trump administration and its complicit Republican enablers are already using the coronavirus as a pretext to shut our Northern border, increase border restrictions, restrict asylum claims, further cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and suspend constitutional habeas corpus (due process) rights.

It isn’t out of character for Republicans to exploit the national emergency to further excuse their antipathy toward Democracy.

Image credit: politics.stackexchange.com

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.