It is time to move beyond the canard of “voter fraud” and pass legislation that would extend and prioritize the “vote by mail” option for federal elections everywhere. There are still seven states that do not offer this option to their voters. On the other hand, five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington – vote exclusively by mail. Furthermore, a majority of states have instituted the “absentee ballot” that allows voting by mail with no justification. A few days ago, Virginia joined them.
The presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Joseph Biden, likes the vote by mail. President Trump does not, in spite of the fact that he voted by mail in the Florida primary (“I was at the White House”, he noted). What is astounding, however, is that he is the president who claimed to have won the Electoral College “in a landslide” and the popular vote as well, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
The president and many Republicans resist voting by mail, claiming that it is fraught with fraud. In fact, there is little evidence to support the claim of fraud. The same political faction warns about voter fraud and calls for stricter voter identification laws for in-person voting. The most recent step in this direction comes from Kentucky whose lawmakers approved a new photo ID requirement and overrode the veto of Democratic Governor Andrew Beshear. The new restrictive law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature will impact students (who are hindered by shifting residences), low-income workers and other minority groups. The Kentucky lawmakers assert that the law is necessary to prevent someone from impersonating another voter in order to cast a ballot in their name. In fact, voter impersonation is so rare that only 35 credible allegations were recorded in the 2000-2014 elections out of 834 million ballots cast.
What the voter identification laws accomplish is erecting a barrier for people exercising their right to vote. The most affected are African Americans and Hispanics, especially those who are low-income. Democrats, libertarians and other groupings have opposed such laws as nothing but suppression, in other words, the attempt to reduce as much as possible the participation of voters likely to vote Democratic. The issue of assuring the widest possible participation in voting is extremely important this year as the coronavirus poses the most significant threat to casting ballots. Not only are people reluctant to go to the polls while the pandemic is still widespread, but many will encounter problems in trying to secure a federally prescribed photo ID at a time when the offices that issue them are working limited schedules. One can be sure that many voters will give up on voting in Kentucky and Wisconsin, two states where the Republican majorities in the legislatures have passed voter identification laws.
Finally, there is another front where the states have to meet their obligation to make voting easy and accessible. Twenty-nine states, including the District of Columbia, give voters the option of voting by mail in federal elections but it is up to the voter to request the ballot. Furthermore, 16 states require voters to provide a valid excuse if they wish to vote by mail. It behooves these states to do away with the burdensome rule of an excuse at a time when the pandemic should weigh in favor of facilitating a no-excuse mailing of the ballot. It is a simple matter of making sure that no laws or regulations concocted by partisan agents may disenfranchise a large number of people in the United States.