Some 600,000 Wisconsinites, five polling stations. Do the math. For as long as I can remember, I eagerly watched my parents connect arrows, mark their votes and mail off their ballots. It seems seamless, but in many states, only once you request a ballot by mail can the at-home voting process proceed.
Imagine thousands filing for mail-in ballots as health officials warn against in-person voting amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Overwhelmed infrastructure, unable to handle the surge in requests, failed to send voters their ballots and forced the choice between safety and civic duty. This was Wisconsin on April 7 — an election day catastrophe.
Other recent examples show a contrasting approach, however. Take Alaska’s primary: The state mailed ballots to all eligible voters after canceling in-person voting. The outcome? A safe and successful election with almost twice the turnout of the 2016 primary. Additionally, existing implementations of voting by mail have consistently demonstrated benefits. States that mailed ballots to all voters showed over 15% greater turnout than those that didn’t in the 2018 election. On June 2, Iowa saw a record primary turnout thanks to absentee ballots, exceeding its all-time high of 449,490 votes cast in 1994.
While some raise concerns for potential partisan advantage prompted by an elevated turnout, studies show mail-in ballots don’t favor either party. Analysis of elections in Colorado in 2014 and Utah in 2016 displayed an overall uptick in votes distributed across candidates of both parties. In fact, California held an almost entirely vote-by-mail special election in what is a historically swing District 25 on May 12 and saw a Republican winner, flipping a previously blue House seat.
So what can be done to prevent an Election Day debacle in November? The answer lies in administering a universal vote-by-mail system. This doesn’t just mean allowing voters to request mail-in ballots. Instead, it means mailing every eligible voter their ballot automatically and strengthening election infrastructure to collect and count each one.
To cast a ballot, voters have the option to drop it off at a polling station, in a local ballot dropbox or mail it through postal service — all requiring no personal contact. It’s a dream come true in pandemic times, and can be orchestrated nationally. It’s a realistic goal: Five states have successfully and repeatedly set an example with almost all ballots cast by mail for years. Since the Civil War, military personnel and foreign service diplomats have voted by mail from oceans away. Almost two centuries later, home-bound voters across the nation still lack the opportunity to do the same due to partisan brawls over mail-in voting. It’s high time we guaranteed the option for all Americans.
Not to be overlooked in this equation is the $2-billion estimated price tag for facilitating voting by mail nationwide. But, as The New York Times editorial board suggests, “it’s a drop in the $1-trillion-plus stimulus bucket … and it should be an essential part of any coronavirus response package.”
Susceptibility of mail-in ballots to voter fraud has been claimed, yet ballot-tampering instances are few and far between — barely a handful of cases surfaced from hundreds of millions of votes cast in 2016. And while President Trump threatens, based on unfounded accusations of such fraud, to cut funding for states that offer universal mail-in voting, his stabs at the system simply underscore the urgency to continue the push for its implementation. Curiously, he himself votes by mail — as do his wife and daughter — and almost 70% of Americans support the practice.
We, the people, are the central pillar of our democracy. With voters sheltered at home, a clear consequence looms barring adoption of universal mail-in voting: disenfranchisement. “A voter cannot deliver for postmarking a ballot she has not received,” articulated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent regarding Wisconsin’s primary, and “will be left quite literally without a vote.”
Of the people, by the people and for the people, our nation prides itself on free, fair elections. By automatically sending Americans their ballots, our democracy’s promise will endure. Enabling the country to vote by mail is a small price to form that more perfect union.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.