As so often happens in our social-media-driven political world, the tweets of President Donald Trump get a lot of coverage and strong reaction. Last week was no exception, as the president got people buzzing with a series of tweets about the November elections. Following up on his repeated attacks on the reliability and credibility of mail-in voting, and threats to cut funding to the United States Postal Service, upon which such voting relies, Trump suggested that the November presidential elections be postponed, since widespread mail balloting would be a “catastrophic disaster,” leading to fraudulent results.
Swift reaction came from all corners, and was largely negative. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) joined the criticism, pointing out that “never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time. We’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3.”
McConnell was right to push back. Free, fair and regularly scheduled elections are the hallmark of a democratic society. And it doesn’t matter whether voters press buttons in a curtained booth, put folded papers into a slotted box, or vote by mail. No matter how the voting is done, we have a proud tradition of Americans actively participating in an election process that is largely unblemished by voter fraud or political corruption. An expansion of a mail-in ballot option should not change that result.
Adjusting national elections for the realities of our more restricted activities during a pandemic may present some challenges, but they are not insurmountable. And the idea of an expanded mail-in voting option could help engage new voters, remove barriers to participation that would be presented by in-person requirements, and help engage a larger segment of our population in the important democratic process of electing the country’s leadership. Increased voter participation is a good thing, not a threat.
According to most reports, concerns about the reliability and credibility of mail-in voting are overblown. Logistical and educational issues relating to the preparation of the electorate for a mail-in election option can be overcome with thoughtful voter education. And there is plenty of time to get that done before the November election.
As observed by Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brenan Center — which works to protect and promote citizen voting rights — “the bottom line is that absentee and mail balloting are secure in America. Election officials, Republicans and Democrats alike, pretty much universally are confident in the system.”
August marks 100 years since women got the right to vote. The suffragettes fought tirelessly to be included in the political process and set an example for fairness and inclusion. We can honor their memory this month by speaking up in support of a general election without delays, without obstacles and with expanded voting options. Our leaders need to hear our insistence on being able to vote in November from wherever the pandemic may lead us.