CAP call on mail voting

Secretaries of state Jena Griswold, D-Colo., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Jocelyn Benson, D-Mich. discuss voting by mail on a Center for American Progress call on April 8, 2020.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold on Wednesday invited other states seeking to transition to voting by mail to “lean on” Colorado, arguing that voter suppression would result from adhering to the status quo during a pandemic.

“A health crisis can’t be used as a tactic to suppress the vote,” Griswold said on a webinar coordinated by the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. “Our constitutional rights do not stop during a crisis.”

Griswold said that much of the solution to running elections during a time when distancing is essential to halting the transmission of COVID-19 is to institute mail ballots and absentee voting, but that that other protocols also had value in Colorado. She singled out online and automatic voter registration, Election Day registration and mobile voting locations as complementary reforms.

“We were social distancing in our elections before we even knew that was a thing,” Griswold added. She advised states to set up centralized scanners for reading ballots, hire seasoned election administrators and “lean on states like us.”

Two-thirds of states permit absentee voting by mail without an excuse and five states allow for all-mail elections. 

Also speaking on the webinar were Alex Padilla, the secretary of state of California, and Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson. Like Griswold, both are Democrats. California recently moved toward all-mail voting, while Michigan voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment to permit absentee mail voting without an excuse. All three states held their presidential primary elections in early March before the escalation of the pandemic.

The officials pointed unflatteringly to Tuesday’s election in Wisconsin, in which the state’s Democratic governor attempted to postpone voting, only to be overruled by the Republican-majority legislature and state Supreme Court. The result was shortages of poll workers, reductions in voting locations and long lines — in addition to the potential for COVID-19 transmission.

“What we're talking about right now are good government solutions,” said Benson. “I hate to use the word ‘descend into chaos,’ but that’s certainly what it felt like as a partisan agenda began to overtake what should have been real, clear solutions for voters.”

Sam Berger, CAP’s vice president for democracy and government reform, dismissed as a “canard” that voting by mail was less secure and would lead to voter fraud. Hours before the webinar, President Donald Trump had tweeted that “Republicans should fight very hard” against mail balloting because there is “tremendous potential for voter fraud”. Trump himself voted by mail in the Florida primary election.

Although Congress allocated $400 million to states for administering elections in the CARES Act, Padilla called it a “missed opportunity” to set federal standards for voting during the pandemic. Berger added that billions of dollars were needed, not millions.

Legislatures should be acting right now,” he said. “This is an emergency. This is the right to vote.”

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