“Absentee ballots are a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others who can’t get tothe polls on Election Day. These ballots are very different from 100% Mail-In Voting, which is ‘RIPE for FRAUD,’ and shouldn’t be allowed!” President Donald Trump, tweet, April 8, 2020
Nevada’s primary election is June 9. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic still uncontrolled, our Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske made a decision to protect Nevadans: “Because of the many uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the immediate need to begin preparations for the 2020 primary election, it became necessary for me to take action regarding how the election will be conducted. Based on extensive conversations with Nevada’s 17 county election officials, we have jointly determined that the best option for the primary election is to conduct an all-mail election.”
Currently, five states have implemented successful mail-in voting: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Most other states send absentee ballots to eligible voters when requested; voters then vote by mail at their own convenience. In 17 states, absentee ballots are restricted, but some states are changing this policy.
Contrary to President Trump’s claim, absentee ballots and mail-in ballots are exactly the same. He displayed his confusion about this April 9, when he said, “There's a big difference between somebody that's out of state and does a ballot and everything is sealed, certified, and everything else. … And you get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody's living room signing ballots all over the place. No, I think that mail-in voting is a terrible thing.” As a friend said, somebody has a humongous living room!
In Nevada, ballots were mailed to all active registered voters. Those who didn’t receive a ballot could contact their county clerk and request a ballot, provided they are eligible to vote. These ballots are individually bar-coded; they are not sent out willy-nilly as Trump implied. The voter fills in the ballot, puts it in a security sleeve and then in the envelope provided with the ballot. The voter signs the envelope and the ballot is mailed or dropped in a secure lockbox at the county building.
One advantage of voting by mail is the resulting paper trail. If any controversy arises, ballots can be recounted. As far as charges of fraud, a recent study found 143 cases of mail-in voting fraud over 20 years. “We are talking about an occurrence that translates to about 0.00006 percent of total votes cast.” Hardly the hotbed of fraud Trump claims is happening! (ProPublica, May 12, 2020)
Voting by mail has a long, respectable history. Professor and retired Navy Capt. Donald Inbody said, “Some part of the military has been voting absentee since the American Revolution.” During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln wanted to let deployed Union soldiers vote by mail. Lincoln was a Republican, the liberal party of the day. Democrats, the conservatives of the time, opposed this idea. “They warned of rampant fraud and ‘a scheme’ by Republicans ‘to gain some great advantage to their party.’” (NBC News, April 19, 2020)
One hundred and fifty thousand Union soldiers took advantage of voting by mail. During both World Wars, the idea of soldiers voting by mail became normal. No one today would advocate denying the military this basic right. Americans living overseas use the same system. The procedures standardized by the federal government would work well with the domestic civilian population.
Republicans, today’s conservatives, have many of the same objections to mail-in voting as Democrats in the 1860s. Why? Trump gave the game away March 30 on Fox and Friends. He was speaking about Democrats’ wish to make voting easier for eligible voters, including mail-in voting. “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump wasn’t referring to voter fraud. He was speaking about holding a fair election without the voter suppression policies imposed by Republicans. He has even threatened to withhold federal funding from Nevada because he is so afraid of a fair election.
A current Public Service Announcement on TV tells about Lt. Colonel Steve, who has voted by mail for years. “He will vote how the military has always voted.” If the military trusts mail-in voting, we should all feel safe doing it. Stand up to those who want to limit your right to vote, both now and in the general election. “Be like Steve; mail it in, Nevada.”
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.