I’ve been banging the drum for vote-by-mail for a long time. What just happened in Wisconsin demonstrates its importance, as a recent op-ed by John Hickenlooper–former Governor of Colorado–emphasizes.
The election chaos in Wisconsin on Tuesday sent a clear message: The nation can’t afford a repeat in November. Poll workers, many of them vulnerable senior citizens, and voters were forced to risk covid-19 infection to participate in American democracy, with scandalously long lines at the few polling places that were open in some areas. Gov. Tony Evers (D) had issued an executive order to reschedule the election, but Republicans fought against it and the state’s Supreme Court blocked it.
Republicans also attacked a sensible proposal by Evers to essentially turn the election into one conducted by mail, with absentee ballots sent to every registered voter. President Trump has lately chimed in with criticism that mail-in balloting is “horrible,” “corrupt” and invites “fraud.”
As Hickenlooper says, Colorado’s experience rebuts the GOP’s hysterical pushback. Colorado wasn’t the first state to go to vote by mail (Oregon and Washington were first), but its citizens have been voting from home for six years. Eligible Colorado voters receive a ballot in the mail roughly three weeks before Election Day, giving them time to do research on candidates and ballot initiatives. They complete the ballot from the comfort of their own homes, and either mail the ballot in or deposit it at one of hundreds of drop-off locations around the state.
Denver city and county voters even have the ability to track the status of their ballots, with email or text notifications, as they travel through the postal system. The “Ballot TRACE” software ensures that every mailed ballot is accounted for.
So what about those predictions of fraud?
The states that vote by mail have devised numerous safeguards against fraud. Colorado conducts rigorous risk-limiting audits; it also maintains a centralized database with voter signatures, and it tracks ballot returns. And as Hickenlooper points out, a big advantage of using mailed ballots is that paper can’t be hacked.
Other advantages? Higher turnouts (Oregon’s turnout puts Indiana’s to shame and in Colorado, the increase was particularly noticeable for “low propensity” populations) and significantly lower costs–Hickenlooper says Colorado saved $6 per voter.
It isn’t just Oregon, Washington and Colorado; other states have been moving in this direction. Voters in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties automatically get ballots at home. Nebraska and North Dakota also use vote by mail to varying degrees. Nearly half of the states allow some elections to be conducted by mail, and many allow voters to cast no-excuse absentee ballots.
The reason the GOP is so adamantly opposed to vote-by-mail is obvious: it increases turnout, and Democrats win when turnout increases. Turnout this November will be especially important. As I wrote in the wake of the Supreme Court’s shameful decision allowing gerrymandering to continue, we will need a citizen tsunami sufficient to overcome the blatantly rigged districts the Supreme Court has declined to rule unconstitutional.
Huge turnouts would be likely to do more than just eject the corrupt and unfit Trump Administration. A large enough turnout could wrest control of the Senate from McConnell, and clean out large numbers of the GOP’s state and local enablers. If that tsunami is big enough, it might even allow old-fashioned Republicans appalled and dispirited by what the GOP has become to retake their party from the white nationalists who have captured it.
If that doesn’t happen…history will record Mitch McConnell’s capture of the Supreme Court and the GOP’s unhindered voter suppression as a successful coup d’etat.