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Zirpoli: Voting by mail nothing new, promotes democracy

President Donald Trump is doing his best to invalidate the election of 2020, six months before it even occurs, claiming that “cheaters” are rigging the election by expanding the option to vote by mail. While Trump and his family vote by mail, he doesn’t want anyone else to have the convenience.

Multiple studies, including those done by The Fulcrum, which describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization, have found little to no evidence that voting by mail increases voter fraud. And while Trump acts like voting by mail is something new to our American democracy, Americans have been voting by mail since before the Civil War.

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Political reporter Alex Seitz-Wald tells the story of Republican President Abraham Lincoln wanting Union soldiers to have the opportunity to vote from the battlefield. About 150,000 of the 1 million Union soldiers did vote, by mail, in the 1864 presidential election. American soldiers have been voting by mail ever since.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a fourth term in 1944, 3.2 million ballots were mailed in by World War II soldiers and accounted for about 7 percent of the total ballots. Seitz-Wald found that “It’s now easier in some ways for a Marine in Afghanistan to vote than it is for an American stuck at home during the COVID-19 lockdown.” In some states, like Wisconsin, this is sadly the case.

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Five states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) have had widespread voting by mail for years. And while all states allow absentee ballots — which is voting by mail — 16 states restrict and limit the use of absentee ballots.

Colorado has provided mail-in voting for all its citizens since 2013. There, voters receive their ballots at home three weeks before election day. They may mail their ballot or take it to a polling station. In the 2016 presidential election, 75 percent of Colorado voters returned their ballots. This compares to only about 50 percent of Americans voting nationally. Thus, voting by mail increases participation and strengthens our democracy.

“I think mail-in voting is horrible. It’s corrupt” Trump said. Yet, former Republican Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who ran the mail-in voting system in Colorado, disagrees. In their first mail-in election, the people of Colorado elected a Republican governor, further evidence that voting by mail does not favor one party over the other.

“You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place,” Trump said. Some Republican-controlled states, most recently Louisiana and Oklahoma, are following Trump’s lead and are challenging mail-by-vote initiatives in court.

Interestingly, pre-Trump, voting by mail was promoted by Republicans. Their favorite voters, older citizens, like the convenience and take advantage of the opportunity. But mailing everyone a ballot, instead of mandating that citizens apply for a ballot, makes voting easier for everyone, not just one demographic favoring Republicans.

Texas has tried to limit voting by mail to voters over 65 years of age. But a court ruled that this discriminates against younger voters who have a reasonable fear of COVID-19 exposure and may also want to vote by mail. Texas Republicans, however, are not interested in helping this predominately Democratic constituency.

Not all Republican states are against voting by mail as already demonstrated in Colorado. West Virginia’s Republican secretary of state sent all voters absentee ballot applications this spring and, so far, 20 percent of them have asked to have their ballots mailed to them.

With the novel coronavirus in the air, voters in other states are also interested in voting by mail. Maryland, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, California, and Michigan have used mail ballots for primary elections this year. Some states, like Michigan, have also given their voters the option to vote by mail in November.

There is a difference, however, in allowing citizens to vote by mail after completing an application and allowing all citizens to vote by mail automatically. It would be nice if, as in Colorado, everyone simply received their ballots in the mail instead of having to apply for one. The application process is unnecessary and costly. It also complicates the process. For example, when thousands of Wisconsin voters applied to vote by mail last month instead of becoming infected with COVID while waiting on line to vote, at least 9,000 of them never received their ballots or received them too late to cast their vote.

Colorado ensures that all eligible voters receive their ballots three weeks before they are due.

Voting by mail has been proven safe and effective in Democratic and Republican states.

One must wonder why expanding this opportunity threatens some people.

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Ultimately, the choice belongs to voters.

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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