May 22, 2020
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Follow President Trump’s actions, not his words, for voting by mail

Tony Dejak | AP
Tony Dejak | AP
Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections on April 28 in Cleveland, Ohio. The first major test of an almost completely vote-by-mail election during a pandemic unfolding in Ohio, offering lessons to other states about how to conduct one of the most basic acts of democracy amid a health crisis.

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Voting by mail is not some newfangled idea. In 2018, more than a quarter of American voters cast their ballots by mail. Since 2000, more than 250 million votes have been cast via the mail. In March, President Donald Trump voted in the Florida presidential primary by mail.

Faced with the prospect of coronavirus still requiring distancing restrictions and recommendations in the summer and fall, many states are considering increasing the use of ballots sent and returned by mail in summer primaries and the November election. This makes sense and, no, it will not lead to rampant voter fraud.

Under Maine law, any registered voter can request an absentee ballot by contacting their town office or filling out an online form. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said the state will not send absentee ballots to every Maine voter ahead of the July 14 primary election because of logistical and financial concerns. That is too bad.

Worried about the dangers of coronavirus — and that such concerns will reduce the number of people who volunteer at polling places — some communities are urging voters to cast absentee ballots, which are available now for the July primary. The primary includes a choice of Republican candidates to challenge 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden and Democrats seeking to unseat Sen. Susan Collins.

States that have universal voting by mail have higher voter turnout. That’s a good thing in a country where only 60 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the last presidential election.

However, some Republicans fear that higher voter turnout will favor Democratic candidates and they have undertaken numerous efforts, in Maine and across the country, to make it harder to vote. For example, Republicans leaders in Maine have undertaken several efforts over the years to intimidate college students, called for voter ID laws and eliminated same-day voter registration, only to have it quickly restored by the state’s voters. In other states, millions of voters, many of them from low-income and minority groups, which are believed to favor Democratic candidates, have been purged from voter rolls.

These efforts are usually undertaken in the name of reducing voter fraud. Yet, research has found that voter fraud is scarce and fraud involving absentee ballots is even rarer.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has compiled a listing of voter fraud cases. It documented 206 cases of fraudulent use of absentee ballots since 1988. It is unclear how many, if any, of the cases involved ballots that were sent by mail. Given the hundreds of millions of votes that were cast during these years, the rate of fraud in infinitesimal. And the number of cases were lowest in states that vote entirely by mail, according to the National Vote at Home Coalition.

Oregon, the first state to move to voting entirely by mail, has sent out more than 100 million mail-in ballots since 2000, and has documented only about a dozen cases of proven fraud, the coalition reports.

Yet, Republicans, led by Trump, are again falsely claiming that voting by mail is plagued by fraud. Decades of voting by mail, including by U.S. military members who are serving away from their home states, show that this is false.

Earlier this week, the president falsely said that Michigan was mailing 7.7 million ballots to voters ahead of the state’s primary and general elections. He claimed the process was illegal and threatened to withhold federal funding from the state. The Michigan Secretary of State was in fact sending absentee voter applications to voters, as approved by the state’s voters in a 2018 referendum that expanded absentee voting.

The president has repeatedly made it clear that although he thinks voting by mail is a bad idea, he’s fine with doing it himself. Earlier this week, he said he had to vote by mail because he lives in the White House but votes in Florida. In April, he said, he voted by mail “ because I’m allowed to.”

As it turns out, the president could have voted in person in Florida’s March presidential primary. In Palm Beach Country, where Trump lists his Mar-a-Lago Club as his legal address for voting purposes, early voting in the Florida presidential primary began on Saturday, March 7. Trump was in Florida that weekend, leaving on March 9.

“He could have voted at any of the county’s 16 early-voting sites,” the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported on Wednesday.

As voters seek to avoid the possibility of getting sick when they cast a ballot, they would be wise to follow the president’s lead and to vote by mail.

 


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