Should We All Be Able to Vote by Mail?

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Should We All Be Able to Vote by Mail?

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In the April 7 article “Voting in Wisconsin During a Pandemic: Lines, Masks and Plenty of Fear,” Astead W. Herndon and Alexander Burns write:

MILWAUKEE — Even before voting began, there were lines outside polling locations that stretched for several blocks. Some poll workers wore hazmat suits. Nearly every voter wore a face mask, removing it only to make small talk that reflected a combination of determination and grim humor about the extraordinary experience of voting amid a deadly pandemic.

For thousands of people across Wisconsin on Tuesday, fears of the coronavirus outbreak did not stop them from participating in the state’s elections, where critical races such as the Democratic presidential primary and a key state Supreme Court seat were being decided.

“It feels bad to have to choose between your personal safety and your right to vote,” said Dan Bullock, 40, as he waited to vote at Washington High School on Milwaukee’s North Side. “But you have to be heard.”

What is your reaction to the primary vote in Wisconsin? Was it wrong for those voters to have to choose between their safety and their right to vote? Should the primary have been canceled or postponed?

Would you have voted at a polling site in Wisconsin if you were of voting age? Or would you have decided to stay home?

What do you think should be done in the remaining state primaries and in the November presidential election to protect the integrity of elections and to ensure voter safety?

Carl Hulse writes about the growing political debates over how to avoid another Wisconsin in the article “As Pandemic Imperils Elections, Democrats Clash With Trump on Voting Changes”:

WASHINGTON — A showdown is taking shape in Congress over how far Washington should go in expanding voting access to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with Democrats pressing to add new options for voters and President Trump and Republicans resisting changes they say could harm their election prospects in November.

Democrats are determined to add new voting requirements for November’s general election to the next stage of coronavirus relief legislation, a move that Mr. Trump and Republican leaders have vowed to oppose. But it is one that Democrats believe is necessary and all the more urgent in light of the confusion and court fights surrounding Wisconsin’s elections on Tuesday.

With public health officials encouraging social distancing and staying at home to slow the spread of the virus, the prospect of millions of voters congregating at polling places around the country to cast their ballots this fall appears increasingly untenable and dangerous. But the fight over whether the federal government should require states to offer other options — by allowing voting by mail, extending early voting and instituting other changes to protect voters and voting rights — is emerging as a major sticking point as lawmakers look to pass a fourth emergency aid measure in the next few weeks.

Michael Wines describes the daunting financial, logistical and personnel challenges to making mail balloting the norm in “Voting by Mail Could Be What States Need. But Can They Pull It Off?”:

When Colorado’s 3.5 million voters help select a president this fall, their choice will be made almost entirely by mail, via ballots in postage-paid envelopes dropped off in mailboxes or, more commonly, in bins scattered statewide.

Not so in Alabama. As the law now stands, all voters must cast their ballots on Election Day, at their designated polling places, unless they vote absentee. And getting an absentee ballot is so hard that fewer than 55,000 of 1.7 million voters cast one in the last election.

The article continues:

“Switching to voting by mail, even in states with no history of it, can absolutely be done, and quite likely it may need to be done,” said Judd Choate, the state elections director in Colorado, which made the change six years ago. “It’s just a matter of how bumpy it is.”

Those potential bumps are vividly illustrated by a sample timeline prepared for states by the federal Election Assistance Commission. It lays out scores of steps, like procuring software, training staff and getting federal post office approval of ballot envelopes, that would have to be completed between April 1 and Election Day on Nov. 3.

For a number of states that already allow a large share of voters to vote remotely, the road would be considerably smoother. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — conduct elections almost entirely by mail. Twenty-eight others and the District of Columbia allow voters to cast absentee ballots by mail without providing a reason, though participation is dampened in states that make voters apply for ballots in every election instead of providing them automatically.

Some of those states have impressive rates of balloting by mail, including big states like Arizona, California and Florida and smaller ones like Montana and North Dakota. But for Alabama and others accustomed to handling only trickles of mail ballots, a quick transition to voting by mail would be wrenching. Most of those states are in the Southeast, but not all: In New York, only 3.5 percent of ballots in the 2018 midterm election were absentee.

Students, read the entire article “As Pandemic Imperils Elections, Democrats Clash With Trump on Voting Changes.” If you have additional time, you can also read “Voting by Mail Could Be What States Need. But Can They Pull It Off?” Then tell us:

  • Should all states offer voting-by-mail options? Tell us why or why not. Which arguments in favor of and against it do you find most compelling?

  • How do you think states should balance the need to hold elections with protecting people’s health and safety? How concerned would you be about voting in person during a primary or a general election during the pandemic?

  • Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri says, “I’m philosophically opposed to the federal government taking over elections. It is a bad idea. I’m pretty flexible about the amount of money, but I’m not flexible about a federal takeover of the election process itself.” Do you agree? Should the federal government require all states to provide vote-by-mail options or should it be a state-by-state decision?

  • Do you think the challenges to voting by mail described by Mr. Wines outweigh its possible advantages? How concerned should we be about the possibility of voter fraud?

  • What other ideas to address holding elections during a pandemic discussed in the articles do you find viable or attractive? What do you think of calls for states to “allow at least 20 days of early, in-person voting to enable people to spread out their trips to polling places rather than lining up on Election Day”? What other ideas would you recommend?

  • What election procedures does your state currently have to address the coronavirus? (You can check here.) What specific changes would you like to see your state enact?


Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.