The Editorial Board, USA TODAY
Published 8:09 p.m. ET June 15, 2020 | Updated 6:34 a.m. ET June 16, 2020
Many states are planning on drastically different elections this year and mail-in ballots could be a big game changer.
Donald Trump votes by mail, the practice dates to the Civil War, and all 50 states allow it. Election officials just need to adopt adequate safeguards: Our view
Less than five months until Election Day, there's a surprisingly fierce debate over mail-in balloting, driven largely by an unpopular president apparently worried that too many people will cast votes in November.
But Donald Trump's outrageous outbursts about the issue — “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent,” he tweeted last month — don't stand up to even casual scrutiny. Twitter for the first time slapped a fact-check label on that tweet.
The fact is, Trump himself votes by mail. All 50 states allow it to some degree. One in four Americans voted by mail in 2016 and 2018. And the practice dates to Union troops voting absentee in the Civil War.
CDC recommendation amid COVID-19
A deadly pandemic renders mail-in voting even more important, particularly as epidemiologists warn of a possible second coronavirus surge come fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that where possible, mail-in voting be encouraged.
OPPOSING VIEW: Widespread voting by mail poses risks
Casting ballots after waiting in long lines unquestionably carries risks. In April, after the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked the governor's effort because of the pandemic, people still braved the polls in record numbers. Dozens voting in person contracted COVID-19.
Even before the pandemic, five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — conducted elections primarily by mail, proactively sending mail-in ballots to registered voters. “It works very very well,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said last month, “and it's a very Republican state.”
Washington, D.C., and 34 states allow absentee voting without requiring an excuse.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, Republican and Democratic election officials across the country have expanded access to absentee voting for primaries and might do so for the fall. Eleven states that require an excuse to vote by mail waived it for those who fear falling ill. A dozen more have chosen to send out mail-in applications or request forms.
The nation is embracing the practice. At least two-thirds of Americans say mail-in voting is necessary during a pandemic.
But Trump continues to make false allegations that states are sending mail-in ballots to noncitizens or people who aren't registered to vote, that ballots will be fabricated, or that children are going to raid mail boxes for them.
GOP invests millions in legal fight
This hand-wringing would be laughable if Trump wasn't threatening to destabilize the Postal Service and to “hold up” federal funding where battleground states are increasing voting by mail. The Republican Party is investing millions of dollars on court challenges to vote-by-mail initiatives.
The reality is that mail voting is a prudent step in a health crisis, and the risks of fraud are tiny. A Washington Post analysis this month showed that in three vote-by-mail states, there were 372 questionable ballots out of 14.6 million cast, or 0.0025%. Research has demonstrated that the practice favors neither Republicans nor Democrats in voting results.
To be sure, states need to adopt adequate safeguards as they race to expand such voting. Regular efforts should be made to ensure the accuracy of voter rolls, and ballots need to be authenticated through processes like signature matching. Experienced vote-by-mail states allow law enforcement training of election workers on matching signatures. Ballot-return envelopes should typically require the voter's signature and include a unique bar code linked to the voter's record.
These changes cost money, and the $400 million in election security funding provided by Congress this spring isn't nearly enough. The House proposed $3.6 billion in the latest coronavirus relief package, and if Congress wants to ensure a fair and accessible election in a pandemic, it needs to up the ante on state support or risk more voting debacles like the one in Georgia last week.
A party that thinks its best hope is to suppress votes is a party in trouble. The case for expanded mail-in voting was already strong. In the midst of a pandemic, it's even more so.
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