As the nation continues to suffer through the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become imperative that governors take decisive steps to expand the option for voters to cast ballots by mail in the remaining primary elections and the November general election. While some voters will need to utilize in-person options, having large numbers of people vote in person endangers the safety of voters and poll workers alike. We saw this play out in the Wisconsin election a few weeks ago, where thousands of voters were forced to wait for hours in line because voting by mail wasn’t sufficiently available.
Many Republican governors have recognized the importance of offering their constituents a robust option to vote by mail safely and securely – and some have already taken decisive action to do so. These governors have rejected President Donald Trump’s fallacious claims that voting by mail leads to fraud, as explained in a recent publication from the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAP Action). Moreover, Governors in the following states have made positive statements and/or taken actions to expand voters’ options to cast ballots by mail in at least some upcoming elections: New Hampshire, Nebraska, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, and Vermont. CAP Action discussed several of these governors in a recent publication, which explained that voting by mail traditionally has not been a partisan issue, despite Trump’s attempts to make it so.
For example, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu told his constituents, “Basically, if you feel more comfortable voting absentee because of the outbreak or your inability or nervousness about just appearing in person to vote, you can vote absentee….” And in Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts defended voting by mail, saying, “It’s a great way for people to be able to vote….I’d encourage people to take advantage of that.”
Unfortunately, as detailed below, many Republican governors have refused to take action to expand voting by mail or tout it as a safe voting option. Their refusal endangers the health and safety of voters in their states, especially because in many cases, their states have onerous hurdles that make it difficult to vote by mail. Their refusal to act also ignores the popularity – even among Republican voters – of mail-in balloting. These governors must immediately tell their constituents about the importance of a vote-by-mail option, and they should start the process of amending their rules and preparing their infrastructure to accommodate a much higher amount of absentee voting by mail.
The following Republican governors are thwarting the expansion of vote-by-mail in their states:
• Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey: Following in Trump’s hypocritical footsteps, Gov. Ivey said she believes that expanding absentee voting by mail would lead to fraud, yet she plans herself to vote by mail. Ivey’s views contradict the Republican secretary of state, who said that voters’ fear of contracting COVID-19 is a valid excuse for absentee voting.
• Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey: Although Gov. Ducey knows the effectiveness and security of mail voting, given that roughly 80% of Arizonans vote absentee by mail without an excuse, he rejected his secretary of state’s request to expand mail voting options and has not disputed Trump’s lies about vote-by-mail fraud.
• Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves: Gov. Reeves has repeatedly stated that “he does not see the need to address potential General Election changes at this juncture, meaning in-person voting will still be the primary method” for voting in Mississippi, unless people can present a permissible non- COVID-19 excuse to vote absentee.
• Missouri Gov. Mike Parson: Despite the fact that county clerks around the state have asked him to make it easier for people to vote absentee by mail, Gov. Parson has refused, saying he does not believe COVID-19 is an acceptable excuse. He also cravenly claimed vote-by-mail is a “political issue … a Democrat-Republican issue,” which should not be debated now.
• Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt: Gov. Stitt has remained silent on the issue of voting by mail, and although his Election Board has reminded voters that they can indeed vote absentee without an excuse, it has argued against removing an onerous notarization requirement that is virtually impossible to meet without violating social distancing guidelines.
• South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster: Despite recommendations from the state Election Commission and lawmakers, Gov. McMaster has remained noncommittal and has not spoken up about the importance of voting by mail.
• Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee: Gov. Lee has not discussed expanding vote-by-mail. To make matters worse, the secretary of state’s office expressed concerns about allowing more people to cast their ballots by mail, saying, “Tennesseans are in the habit of voting in person.”
• Texas Gov. Greg Abbott: In March, Gov. Abbott claimed that all voting options are on the table for consideration – but he resisted lawmakers’ calls to support voting by mail. In fact, in April, the state attorney general determined that Texans who encourage voters to use COVID-19 as an excuse to vote absentee by mail will be prosecuted, a decision that a county judge quickly overruled; several federal and state lawsuits are pending. The Texas Democratic Party has launched an online tool allowing any resident, regardless of political affiliation, to request a registration form or fill out the form online and have the blank or pre-filled form mailed to them with a postage-paid envelope already addressed to the proper county clerk.
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