A White Paper on Expanding Voting Options
by Ronn Smith for Wyoming Rising
May 20, 2020
Read the full paper here: Vote By Mail White Paper
The Problem: the risk of low voter turnout amidst a pandemic and rising structural barriers.
As the Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country, there are growing concerns about whether in‐person voting can be conducted safely in the months ahead, especially for the November 2020 election. At the same time, certain states have made voting more difficult by reducing the number of polling places, raising obstacles to registration, altering voter ID laws, suppressing early voting, and purging voter rolls. All these factors put the long‐term health of our democracy at risk.
Underlying the current impediments to voting are systemic reasons for persistent non-participation by the American public.
The Solution: combination of automatic voter registration, on‐line portals to request ballots, robust vote‐by‐mail systems, and early voting at polls.
The ability for people to choose their leaders is the foundation of our democracy. In November, elections will be held across the country that determine not only who the president will be but also the outcome of 11 gubernatorial elections, 35 of 100 U.S. Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. While states can shift primary dates, the November 3rd federal election date is set by federal law. One way to ensure timely elections without undermining public health is to expand mail voting. Another is to allow early in‐person voting to diminish the risk of long lines and large crowds.
Common Objections to Vote-by-Mail:
- Potential for Voter Fraud.
- Potential for Political Bias.
- Excessive Cost.
- Delays in Counting Ballots.
- Early or Absentee Voters Deprived of Last-Minute Information
- Will Not Affect Voter Turnout
Uncertainty of Postal Service
A functioning Postal Service is a prerequisite for establishing a national vote‐by‐mail program for the elections in the fall. President Trump has raised concerns among Democrats and ethics watchdogs that the Postal Service will be politicized at a time when states are mobilizing their vote‐by- mail efforts ahead of the 2020 election.
Two‐thirds of Americans expect the current pandemic to disrupt voting in November, according to a late‐April survey by the Pew Research Center. Many Americans could be prevented from voting because they cannot safely get to a polling station. Voting should not be a matter of life and death. The easiest and safest solution is to extend vote‐by‐mail and early voting options to everyone. States should take care in adopting these measures, to protect against voter fraud and undue influence. But they need not invent these protections as they go along; they can copy what five states have already done. This can be accomplished in time for the November election, but it is critical to act now and extend adequate funding to the states and the Postal Service. The amount of money needed pales in comparison to the federal appropriations for the Covid‐19 outbreak. We must learn from Wisconsin. Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission said, “If states and the federal government don’t do more to help voters in November — starting now, with urgency — the barriers for some of them may be insurmountable.”
Only one so‐called swing state is already set up for most people to vote by mail — Arizona, where 79 percent did so in 2018. The added importance of swing states to presidential election outcomes, and the time needed to fully implement vote by mail, underscore the urgency of starting right away. Election administrators looking to institute mail voting in time for November should carefully communicate the changes — and the reasoning behind them — to all voters.
Some will argue that the current system is ideal because it weeds out uninformed voters. But surveys consistently show that even people who vote faithfully often lack knowledge of how our government functions. In this hyper‐partisan age how many voters truly evaluate the candidates and issues at stake objectively? Do most voters weigh the candidates’ knowledge, character, and leadership qualifications, or do they vote along party lines? One could argue that early voting or voting from home might enable people to exercise their franchise more thoughtfully and deliberately. But even if they do not, the constitution establishes no test for the right of citizens to vote. And the risks of nonparticipation may exceed the risks of ignorance. As Barack Obama warned, “Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.”
In our democracy, representative government is every citizen’s right. But only our votes can fulfill and preserve that right. Voting is a civic duty, like obeying traffic laws. The right to drive a motor vehicle is predicated on driving responsibly. To inhibit any citizen from voting is analogous to putting up barriers to safe driving. Just as clear‐cut traffic laws make for safer highways, a transparent and convenient election system will facilitate a more just democracy. It makes little sense that America, with one of the lowest voter participation rates in the industrialized world would make voting burdensome while Belgium, with the highest voter turnout, makes it compulsory.
As citizens we must not allow partisanship, demagoguery, or unabashed disdain for democracy to strip us of our constitutional right to vote. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”