I prefer in-person voting, but I also prefer a roaring economy unhindered by an urgent need for mass self-isolation.
Epidemics require drastic adaptations.
I’m flagging this poll as an early marker of “neutral” GOP opinion, before Trump starts hammering his message that mail-in voting would be a disaster for the party. Right now most Republicans are approaching the prospect of in-person voting during a raging outbreak from a position of pure common sense. If it’s so dangerous to go to the polls that poll workers have to wear makeshift hazmat suits to protect themselves, we should consider an alternative for November. Everything in our culture is shifting towards home delivery, possibly including coronavirus testing soon-ish, so why not ballots? There’s bipartisan agreement, per Reuters:
Most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, want the government to require mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 presidential election if the coronavirus outbreak still threatens the public this autumn, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
[T]he poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday found that 72% of all U.S. adults, including 79% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans, supported a requirement for mail-in ballots as a way to protect voters in case of a continued spread of the respiratory disease later this year.
As Ed noted yesterday, states could do a modified version of that idea in which they simply expand the existing system for absentee ballots. They all already allow mail-in absentee ballots, of course; many American soldiers vote that way. States could drop any requirement that people show proof of absence on Election Day in order to receive a ballot (most don’t require that anyway) and make it clear early that anyone who wants an absentee ballot is free to request one. That would place the burden on each individual voter to formally request an absentee ballot weeks before the election if he/she wants to vote remotely.
A true mail-in system would place the burden on the state to supply voters with ballots proactively. They’d mail them out to everyone in advance of the election and then recipients would return them. That’s the system Democrats want, I assume. Whether Republicans favor that or a modified absentee system in which voters are expected to take the initiative is unclear, as the poll didn’t ask about it.
But I’m guessing once Trump makes his position loud and clear, a majority will oppose either option:
Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans. @foxandfriends
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2020
He has no direct authority over what individual states choose to do, but of course he can veto a coronavirus stimulus bill if it provides money to states to help pay for mail-in voting or an expanded absentee system. His opinion will also heavily influence Senate Republicans and local governments in red states who won’t want to be accused of “disloyalty.” He’s going to work hard to make this a partisan issue because he knows that the easier it is to vote, the higher his chances of losing will be. Republican candidates usually do better in polls of likely voters compared to polls of registered voters; widespread mail-in voting would mean that many casual voters who normally wouldn’t stand on line at a polling place will take five minutes to fill out a ballot and drop it in the mail, which may make national turnout look more likely a sample of registered voters than likely voters. For reasons of pure self-interest, his worries about mail-in voting are perfectly rational.
But epidemics require drastic adaptations. If it’s a choice between mail-in voting and asking people to wait on line for hours while the virus is spreading, that choice should be simple in a democratic country.
His neutral excuse for opposing voting by mail is supposedly because it’s more prone to fraud, a claim that would be taken more seriously if he hadn’t spent much of the 2016 post-election period claiming that illegal aliens voted en masse to to give Hillary Clinton her popular vote advantage. All he’s doing here is claiming prospectively rather than retrospectively that he’s been cheated in case he loses and needs a way to justify the result. It’s a blame-shifting exercise, as usual:
Trump: "Mail-in voting is horrible. It's corrupt."
Reporter: "But you voted by mail in Florida's election last month, didn't you?"
Trump: "Sure, I can vote by mail through the –"
Reporter: "So how do you reconcile that?"
Trump: "Because I'm allowed to." pic.twitter.com/NAOi5NCa6S
— The Hill (@thehill) April 7, 2020
Lotta “corruption” going on out there, it seems, including in red states:
“Donald Trump, you voted by mail” is a bit funnny but it only allows him to frame mail voting in terms of someone living outside of the state.
In reality mail voting is common across the country, among Republicans and Democrats pic.twitter.com/XOSdMU3p84
— Will Jordan (@williamjordann) April 8, 2020
Saying vote by mail is “corrupt” invalidates Trump’s own election…
Some of the states where mail voting is 20%+ of votes…
— Will Jordan (@williamjordann) April 8, 2020
Experts allow that there’s “slightly more fraud in mail-voting than in-person voting” but that it’s extremely rare. Mail-in systems can be operated, and already are operated in various western states, securely via strategies like ballot tracking and special drop boxes. A special headache with mail-in voting is the legal warfare it might trigger in a tight race, with ballots being challenged based on signatures, simple clerical errors in filling out identifying info, timeliness, and so on — but even experts who fret about that think expanding voting by mail is the only good option amid an epidemic. Officials in states that have overseen mail-in voting for years are already assuring colleagues in other states that it can be done with minimal risk of fraud:
For the past few weeks, elections officials across the country have been talking frequently, sharing best practices and sometimes walking through the vote-by-mail process. The National Association of State Election Directors had been holding weekly conference calls, and Kim Wyman, the Republican serving as Washington’s secretary of state, said her office had been in touch with officials in every other state, answering questions about vote-by-mail logistics.
They had demystified vote-by-mail’s anti-fraud measures, explaining that ballot envelopes must be signed, that county clerks call voters if there are problems with their ballots, and that they’ve been able to chase down the few cases where people voted twice. In Washington’s last election, 4.4 million ballots were cast but fewer than 100 ballots were flagged and none led to a criminal fraud investigation. Voter fraud remains rare, with high-profile cases representing a tiny fraction of votes cast each year…
Most states that don’t conduct mail-only elections are unlikely to put those systems in place over the next few months, something that would require millions of dollars and emergency legislation. But there is plenty of room and time to make absentee voting easier.
Right, expanded absentee voting is the obvious middle-ground option. And that could be paired with innovations to make in-person voting easier — for instance, an expanded early-voting period to reduce congestion at the polls or, per this NRO piece from yesterday, drive-through voting that allows people to remain in their cars and safely away from other voters and poll workers. It might even benefit Republicans, the authors of that piece argue. Older Americans lean right, and older Americans are the group at the greatest risk if they have to vote in person. Make it easier for grandma and grandpa to vote remotely and it might make the difference for Trump in swing states.