Analysis & Opinions - The Washington Post

It’s Up to the States to Prevent an Election Day Fiasco

| June 09, 2020

Tuesday was primary day in West Virginia, and the Republican-led state government there did something sensible that other states should embrace: They made it easier to cast absentee ballots.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia permit absentee voting, but they don’t always make it simple. West Virginia is one of about 16 states that require a medical reason or other excuse. But because of covid-19, West Virginia declared a general medical excuse and mailed absentee ballots to all 261,000 voters who asked for them. By Tuesday, about 85 percent of those ballots had been cast and received.

“The voters should have confidence in the system,” Andrew “Mac” Warner, the West Virginia secretary of state, told me during an interview on Tuesday. Warner is a pro-Trump Republican. But he’s also a 23-year Army veteran, and he knows how hard it can be to vote. Absentee voting presents opportunities for fraud, he says, but they can be managed.

Warner and other conscientious state officials are among my heroes as we head toward the November presidential election. We can see trouble ahead, because of the coronavirus pandemic and the divisiveness in our politics, and we should think now about how to avert a potential national disaster coming toward us like a car wreck in slow motion.

President Trump, who’s well behind former vice president Joe Biden in most polls, is already setting the table to challenge the result. In a year when mail-in voting will probably be needed as never before because of the health crisis, Trump is claiming such absentee balloting will produce a rigged election.

Trump last month attacked absentee-balloting plans in Michigan and Nevada as “Voter Fraud” scenarios. When he later tweeted, “There is NO Way (ZERO!) that Mail-In ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent,” Twitter took the unusual step of tagging his message with a warning that pointed users to contrary evidence.

Trump tried this same delegitimization back in 2016, when most polls predicted he would lose. He claimed, “large scale voter fraud happening,” and his campaign website pleaded: “help me stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election.” Even after he won the electoral college, he claimed he had been fraudulently denied a popular-vote win, again without evidence. As president, he appointed a commission to study the supposed fraud problem, but it disbanded in 2018 after accomplishing nothing.

“We could very well be headed toward a predictable, disastrous conclusion,” warns Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “If the president’s disparagement of absentee voting leads to one party thinking it’s not legitimate, then the foundation is laid for a sizable refusal to accept the election’s legitimacy.”

An electoral crisis, added to all our other national problems, seems increasingly likely in November. We’re on a collision course: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March recommended “voting methods that minimize direct contact with other people,” such as mail-in balloting. But Trump has derided such measures as unfair.

How can we protect our democracy from this looming crackup? Our fate rests with state officials who, in our federalist system, will make and enforce the rules for elections. Fortunately, like Warner in West Virginia, they seem to be taking this job seriously and, to an encouraging extent, in a nonpartisan way.

“Election officials are weighing all contingencies to ensure elections this year are secure and accessible for all voters, including increasing absentee or mail-in voting,” said a May 20 joint statement from the nonpartisan National Association of Secretaries of State and National Association of State Election Directors. These are the folks who will be responsible for getting and counting the votes on Nov. 3.

Reassuring guidance comes from the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). It notes that two-thirds of states provide absentee ballots without requiring any excuse, and other states are easing the excuse requirement. The NCSL website cites studies that mail-only balloting has yielded greater voter satisfaction, lower costs and higher turnout. As for fraud worries, the NCSL counsels: “In several ways, absentee/mailed ballots are as secure or more secure than traditional methods of voting.”

Here’s the bottom line: Most Americans will have a right to absentee ballots in November, no matter what Trump says. Counting them will take a week or more — so we’ll have a bitterly divisive post-election period, no matter what. Let’s be ready for that, vigilant but also patient.

Forewarned is forearmed. This will be one of the most important elections in our lifetimes. State and local officials take the protection of our democratic rights seriously. And hopefully, they won’t let themselves be intimidated by anyone.

  – Via the original publication source.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ignatius, David.“It’s Up to the States to Prevent an Election Day Fiasco.” The Washington Post, June 9, 2020.