Absentee, Mail-in Ballots Essential For Elections

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

Though Nov. 3 is many months away, it may not be enough time for many states to prepare for the general election in a time of fear about the spread of the coronavirus and the deadly disease it causes, COVID-19.

At the top of the ballot will be the presidential candidates. At this point, there is an assumption that the two top candidates will be Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat former Vice President and Delaware U.S. Sen. Joe Biden. It will be a contentious election with potentially a record voter turnout.

Some speculate that the virus might not be around come the fall or won’t be much of a factor in people casting their votes. We wish. On the contrary, it is very likely going to have a significant impact on how we will conduct our elections in November.

“We will have coronavirus in the fall,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, says. Fauci is also a lead policy figure in the nation’s battle against the deadly virus. “I am convinced of that because of the degree of transmissibility that it has, the global nature.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield also warns of a second wave of the coronavirus this fall potentially made worse if it coincides with the flu season. 

“This is going to get worse. This is going to get much, much worse. I think most people don’t understand that,” Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, says. “As such, what we’re doing now is just the beginning of what will likely be a 16- to maybe 20-month period of time when we’re all going to be dealing with this issue. It will be a real challenge.”

With the coronavirus still present, and possibly vigorously reasserting itself, social distancing will remain essential to slow the spread and now may die.

Older citizens and people with underlying conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the disease shouldn’t have to risk their lives to vote.

One step all states should be taking right now is providing for an expansion of absentee and mail-in voting. It is a topic being discussed in every state in the country right now but with differing degrees of acceptance.

There could be substantial delays in taking action in some states as legislatures argue over details of whether or not to make mail-in and absentee voting easier and more available to voters. Lawsuits will be playing out in the courts. By the time the court cases and legislative bickering are over, there may not be time to implement more widespread absentee and mail-in balloting smoothly.

Minnesota is fortunate to be one of 28 states to have no-excuse absentee voting – you don’t need a reason to get an absentee ballot, such as being gone on election day or illness. Some states require a specific, approved reason for getting an absentee ballot. Many of our townships and small towns already conduct their elections by mail. Recent polls have shown that two-thirds of Americans support holding this year’s presidential election by mail.

Those who oppose absentee and mail-in balloting argue that it is subject to fraud. There are also fears among some Republican elected federal and state politicians that these alternative ways of voting favor Democrats. Studies have shown that it is not true.

“Mail-in voting doesn’t favor one political party over another, nor does it invite more frequent incidents of fraud, according to new research,” Danielle Haynes of United Press International reports. “Stanford University’s Democracy and Polarization Lab studied the issue by reviewing data from three states that used vote-by-mail between 1996 and 2018. Researchers found the method didn’t appear to “affect either party’s share of turnout” or “increase either party’s vote share.”

Republican election officials in Idaho, Iowa, Montana, and Nebraska are already preparing their citizens for the November elections by asking them to cast absentee ballots in the primary elections. Two states that will be critical in the 2o20 presidential election are among those that require no excuse to vote absentee – Michigan and Florida.

“Especially at the county level, some Republican election officials have remained adamant in their support for mail-in voting. That includes Leslie Hoffman, the county recorder for Yavapai County, Arizona — a deeply red area that surrounds the town of Prescott,” Matt Vasilogambros of Pew Research writes.

“Nearly two-thirds of the county’s voters supported Trump in 2016. Even so, mail-voting is popular in her north-central Arizona county: More than three-quarters of voters have previously signed up to receive absentee ballots in the mail.”

“Once voters start voting by mail, they’re hooked,” Brian Corley, the supervisor of elections in Pasco County Florida, a Republican, told Vasilogambros. “It’s safe, it’s secure and voters absolutely love it. I want every voter to have that option.” Fifty-nine percent of voters in the county voted for Trump.

Congress and states must allocate the funds required to educate citizens about the mail-in and absentee voting process. They must make sure they know how to get registered and how to send in their ballots on time. Free, fair, and inclusive elections are at the core of America’s democratic government.

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