It’s hard not to see the debacle that played out in the Wisconsin primary has a precursor for things to come this November. In the absence of rescheduling a general election which is completely unheard of, it has been surprisingly easy for Republicans of all stripes to shrug their shoulders when asked about the expansion of voting in America. There has been little political cost for any of it, so much so that Trump literally gave the whole thing away saying, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again” if universal vote by mail became law.
It’s not just him though. The Chicago Tribune quotes several high-profile GOP members like the Speaker of the House in Georgia and Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky as saying alarmist phrases like “extremely devastating to Republicans” and “the end of our republic as we know it” in response. Removing for a second the odd logic that allowing more people to vote would somehow portend the end of the country as we know it, their argument boils down to three main points. Mail-in voting leads to increased turnout, higher numbers of voters generally skew Democratic, and mail-in voting increases chances for voter fraud.
Vote by mail does increase turnout.
This one is obvious, but let’s back it up. Martin Austermuhle, writing for NPR, says, “Voter turnout in Rockville’s municipal elections on Nov. 5 almost doubled compared to the 2015 elections, largely because of the city’s shift to a vote-by-mail system in which every registered voter was mailed their ballot ahead of time.” He goes on to say that “a total of 12,287 ballots were cast for mayor and four members of the city council — an increase of 88.8% over the 6,468 ballots cast in 2015.”
Another example — in 2018, the Washington Monthly commissioned a study using data from Colorado’s 2014 election to look at the effects of a statewide vote by mail system. The results “found that vote at home increased overall turnout by 3.3 percent, and by even more among young and low-propensity voters.” Let’s keep going. David Roberts, writing for Vox, covered two elections: one in Nebraska and the other in Alaska that switched to all mail-in voting. Roberts writes, “That simple change boosted voter turnout in Garden County to 58.7 percent. The average for all other Nebraska counties? 24.3 percent — less than half that.” That’s an over fifty percent increase in turnout. For the Alaska election he reports, “Voter turnout hit 34 percent, breaking a record set in 2012” in Anchorage, Alaska.
The evidence is clear. Vote by mail makes the act of voting more accessible. That’s a fact that should be hard for anyone to argue against. If you could boil down our long spotty history as a country, every struggle has come down to roughly one of two things: the expansion of the right to vote and the proliferation of democratic ideals abroad. For a party that so often wraps itself in the flag, it’s hard to be proud of a country that intentionally disenfranchises its voters.
Mail-in voting helps both Republicans and Democrats.
Reid Epstein and Stephanie Saul, writing for The New York Times, report that “Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — now have all-mail elections, in which ballots are sent to every registered voter without their having to request one. Others, like Arizona and California, allow voters to add themselves to a permanent list of mail voters.” They go on to write that “None of these states have seen an appreciable shift favoring Democrats that officials and experts attribute to mail voting.”
Overall turnout in these states is up, all of them consistently ranking high in voter turnout across the country. The distinction though is that this bump in turnout doesn’t provide significant advantage to either party. No consistent. pattern has emerged in any of the areas that vote by mail is prevalent. For as many examples of vote by mail helping Democrats, there are plenty of examples of mail-in voting helping Republicans. Studies have found repeatedly that while vote by mail does boost turnout, it more often than not helps strengthen the status quo instead of giving a party a significant advantage it didn’t already have.
Utah is a prime example, a state that launched its voluntary vote by mail system in 2012 and yet is still one of the most reliably Republican states in the union. Matthew Brown, in an article for Deseret News, writes “The Beehive State launched its universal vote-by-mail system in 2012 and remains one of the most reliably Republican states in the country.” He goes on to write, “studies have never found that making voting easier through early voting, same-day registration or vote by mail has favored one party over another, although the research has confirmed that mailing ballots to all voters does increase turnout across the board.”
The biggest group of voters vote by mail seems to help turnout is “low information” voters, people who don’t pay much attention to politics and don’t have a strong affiliation with either party. These people generally get their political views from their community. If their family is Republican, then they tend to lean Republican. If their friends are Democrats, then they lean Democrat. Authority figures heavily influence these types of voters such as their pastor, their parents, or their significant other. These types of voters generally don’t rock the boat they’re in.
Fraud is rare when it comes to elections.
The most high-profile, recent case of election fraud occurred in North Carolina in the 2018 midterm election when Leslie McCrae Dowless, a Republican operative, fraudulently collected and tampered with voter ballots in order to help the Republican, Mark Harris, win. According to NPR, the scheme included, “ instructing his co-conspirators to sign certifications that falsely stated they had seen a voter vote by absentee ballot, and improperly mailing in absentee ballots for someone who had not mailed it themselves.” His scheme would have worked if he hadn’t been caught. Harris narrowly beat out his Democratic opponent by about 900 votes. Ultimately, the election was invalidated and they held a new election in that district. The new Republican challenger still won.
This type of thing is not the norm and any Republican who says otherwise is lying to you. Most proven instances of fraud are voter fraud, and it’s usually committed on accident, due to ignorance, a clerical error or an attempt to fill out a ballot for a family member that they can’t fill out themselves for whatever reason. In a study, published in the Washington Post, 31 credible instances of voter impersonation fraud were found between 2000–2014. Over 1 billion ballots were cast during that time period and even the author admits that the number of credible instances is likely inflated.
The Brennan Center for Justice has a whole collection of study after study debunking the myth of widespread voter fraud. Additionally, there have been almost a dozen court rulings agreeing with the sentiment that voter fraud is at most minimal and always negligible in the scheme of any election where it occurs. The Fifth Circuit, in an opinion that found a strict Texas photo ID law racially discriminatory, noted that there were, “only two convictions for in-person voter impersonation fraud out of 20 million votes cast in the decade” in the time prior to the Texas law being passed.
A national vote by mail program is the only ethical solution.
Voter fraud isn’t a real issue, and even when it does occur, it’s negligible at best, having no meaningful effect on the outcome of an election. Don’t get me wrong. It is important that we preserve the integrity of our elections, but every single person in the U.S. should practice incredible skepticism when it comes to any politician advocating for more restrictive measures on voting.
This mindset is doubly important in the midst of a global pandemic. We have. proof now that soldiering on and attempting to disease-proof polling stations isn’t practical. Just take a look at the nonsense that occured in the Wisconsin and Florida primaries a few weeks ago.
I get it. There’s a proud American tradition of weathering the storm and not letting things beat you, and believe me, cancelling elections is a slippery slope we definitely don’t want to go down. The inescapable fact though is that it is wrong to make people choose between their health and their right to vote, and vote by mail is a proven, effective method to ameliorate that quandary.