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The politics of voting by mail in November 2020

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 6/25/2020, midnight

Okay, a couple of things out front: most of us are convinced the Republicans, writ large, will try to cheat to win most of the elections scheduled for Nov. 3 this year—especially the presidential election—and most Republicans will continue to bleat that mail-in balloting is not safe and shouldn’t be widely used.

Based on all the available, accumulated evidence compiled over at least the last 10 years, the latter comment is clearly wrong. According to the Brennan Center, absentee balloting, the most common type of mail-in balloting, has been in regular use in the U.S. since the Civil War, well over a century and a half ago. Stanford University researchers have concluded that between 1996 and 2018, neither political party benefited more than the other when mail-in balloting was used.  And Oregon, a state that regularly uses mail-in balloting, looking at over 100 million such ballots said it found only 12 cases of attempted fraud, a rate of .0012 percent.

Already, five states regularly conduct all their elections through mail-in balloting, with eight more which can immediately ramp up to complete mail-in balloting right now.

California has a 2016 law, the Voters’ Choice Act, that calls for mailing a ballot to every registered state voter for national and statewide elections (something the Trump administration has unsuccessfully challenged in court), at least 11 days of in-person voting scheduled at announced locations in relevant counties, and several convenient options for returning ballots, including prepaid envelopes and ballot boxes. Overall, 82 percent of those who have participated in California elections since then have voted by mail, almost error-free.

For ease of voter effort amid the pandemic, and allowing much more inclusive voting, the mail-in option for November offers the best choice for the USA.

But it is a complicatedly simple option, given the country’s current circumstances. In order to expand the vote-by-mail option for 2020, it will mean massively more printing, more U.S. postage (and, of course, the continuing operations of the U.S. Post Office), greatly increased storage space to handle returned ballots, millions of ballots to verify and count, a massive increase in personnel and equipment, more digital support and quite simply, much more money, as lead-off issues with which to contend. Plus, a POTUS winner may not be announced on the night of Nov. 3. And, clearly, states must have competent and organized Secretaries of State and heads of elections, things that have recently shown themselves not to be taken for granted (look at Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia primaries for recent examples of this problem).

But can the U.S. get all these items, and more, taken care of in time for the Nov. 3 national elections? If so, that answer will have to be provided within the next 30 days. After then, it will be too late to get everything necessary done.

For the African-American, Latinx, and Native- American populations, mail-in voting offers the best chance of getting all their votes counted without worrying about missing and last-minute closures of precincts, changes in polling stations, and lack of polling personnel.

But just because it will be better for all concerned does not mean it will be the path wisely chosen. We’ll see.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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