Believe it or not, I can still remember the very first check I ever wrote, right after I got my first checking account. As a life-long astronomy lover, I sent a check for $12 off to a company that made telescope accessories. I remember that for my $12 I got two moon filters, designed to lower the brightness of a full moon, so that you could look at it without blinding yourself. I sent that check through the U.S. mail, and in a couple of weeks I got my filters. I trusted the Postal Service to do its job, transmitting my money safely, and it did.
For many years, before the idea of paying bills online became practical, I’d do the bills every Saturday and would write out the checks and pop them in the mailbox, where a nice postal worker would pick them up and deliver them. The Postal Service generally reports nearly 99% of items delivered accurately and within the time promised. That’s pretty good.
During my first military duty assignment in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I was a “finger on the button” guy in the ICBM world. As a military person away from my “permanent” home back in Michigan where I grew up, I was sent an absentee ballot, which I filled out and mailed back, again via the U.S. Postal Service. In fact, about three quarters of the active-duty military force are eligible to vote via absentee ballots due to being away from their home voting stations. Guess how those ballots get sent: Yup, the U.S. mail. The system has worked well, with no proven examples of widespread fraud via such balloting going back all the way to the Civil War. Absentee voting has a long tradition of working safely and effectively in the U.S. Heck, even President Trump votes by mail.
Which, of course, brings me to a dozen elderly Republican women voters in 2008.
No doubt you’ve seen a number of examples of the Trump GOP (I call it that to distinguish this current abhorrent version of the Republican Party from that of good and honorable people like Bill Owens and Bob Dole) fighting tooth and nail against the idea of voting by mail. They assert, without evidence, that such voting would lead to fraud and shenanigans and, oh my, dogs marrying cats and the end of our free society. But if you actually look at the evidence, voter fraud is quite rare, with only a handful of cases over the last few billions of votes cast in the U.S.
I remember a conversation back during my own 2008 campaign for Congress, with the then-Colorado secretary of state. I asked him about voter fraud in Colorado, and he told me that (at that time) they had only discovered 12 examples of fraudulent voting in our fair state. All 12, it turned out, were elderly GOP women who apparently moved to Florida, and registered to vote there without cancelling their registration in Colorado. They then voted, well, twice. Given the roughly 2.4 million votes cast here in that election, the “fraud” rate comes out to…carry the two… about 0.000005% bad votes. Not too much of a risk.
So, we trust the Postal Service with our checks (for the young folks: checks were bits of paper that could be sent to someone to pay a debt) and we trust the mail for our military members to vote. We trust the mail for absentee voting by the president himself, and we trust the mail to send vital medications to lots of people from various pharmaceutical companies. Heck, the Hope Diamond was mailed to the Smithsonian and to this day, people ship live honey bees via the USPS. I am hoping they draw the line at murder hornets.
Which makes one wonder why the president and his minions are so set against expanding vote by mail during a national pandemic. The assertions of increased fraud risk are false, given the security of the mail noted above. Heck, every U.S. state offers absentee voting by mail, with two thirds of those not requiring any reason for asking for an absentee ballot, and several states, including our own, fully vote by mail.
So, what really is the bottom line then? Simply put, Trump and his people realize that if lawful voting is made easier for more Americans, he loses. His GOP has done just about all they can do by gerrymandering and voter suppression, so they need to look for more tools to employ in keeping the vote down, especially for certain groups of voters thought to skew more Democratic.
In Florida, in 2018, the voters passed a reform that would restore voting rights to nearly 1.4 million former felons (except those guilty of violent or felony sexual crimes). The people had spoken, right? Well, the Florida legislature, controlled by the Republicans, decided to thwart the will of the people by passing a law (just in time for the 2020 election) that would undo the will of the voters, and would create a complicated system of restitution and “term of sentence” rules converting time to money owed, and more, before any former felon could actually get his or her vote back. The courts will have the final say, but the GOP was clear in their desire — make voting harder for some people.
Colorado is one of several poster children for the value and security of voting by mail. During a global pandemic we should be working toward a solution that will encourage voting while reducing risk. Vote by mail is, primarily, that solution. But just watch as the Senate Republicans and the president work hard to reduce voting opportunities. And that is just wrong.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.