Town Hall Project Presents Vote By Mail: With Senator Wyden, Representative Neguse & Secretary of State Kim Wyman

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8 mins read

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Town Hall Project organized a bipartisan panel — Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), and SOS Kim Wyman (R-WA) — to discuss the necessity of the federal government bringing vote-by-mail (VBM) in some form to every state in the country. While many states have implement VBM since Oregon introduced it, and sent the first senator elected by mail to Congress, other states still limit their residents to casting a vote in a polling place on election day.

As the panelists noted, the recent Georgia primary demonstrates exactly what’s at stake as we head into the general election. With its shoddy machinery, understaffed polling places, and untrained poll workers, Georgia emerged as — in the words of Senator Wyden — an “almost textbook case of how to mismanage an election.”

To prevent an electoral debacle, Senator Wyden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, which would provide federal funding and clear guidance to minimize partisan issues or challenges. This act expands in-person voting and no-excuse absentee VBM to all states, and ensures that states would get resources from Congress so that Democrats and Republicans both feel that the election produces fair results. The president and the Senate majority leader, however, have demonstrated no interest in advancing the bill.

As the panelists noted, VBM is a bipartisan effort. Both Democrats and Republicans have their own concerns over VBM; Democrats worry about accessibility for voters (including those with disabilities) and cultural support for hesitant voters, while Republicans worry about voter fraud and proper documentation and verification. But Democrats and Republicans — including SOS Wyman and Republican Governor Larry Hogan — support VBM efforts and believe it works well.

The United States will likely be holding an election during the pandemic, which will significantly impact people’s ability to vote. Unfortunately, there is no Plan B. Americans either vote by mail or huge numbers won’t be able to vote at all. According to Sen. Wyden, local officials of both parties are hearing this important message. For instance, the recent primary in Kansas — a red state — was conducted by VBM.

Since the panelists do not anticipate achieving 100 percent VBM across the country by November — it took Washington five years before it had VBM throughout the state — hybrid systems need to be developed, such as extending early voting and encouraging VBM. The task now is to help the states that need assistance.

In addressing questions posed by people from around the country, the panelists touched on numerous issues. Paramount was the safety and security of VBM, but SOS Wyman spoke of the ability to balance access and security. States have numerous security measures in place, including requiring signature verification and identification at registration, conducting signature matches with forensic specialists, and notifying the voter when the ballot is received (which alerts the voter if the ballot has been stolen and submitted). Voters also are contacted when a signature fails to match to “cure” questionable ballots.

Additionally, voters in Oregon and Washington face significant consequences in case of fraud. One poll worker who tampered with two ballots was jailed for 90 days and fined $13,000. But fraud is essentially a non-issue: a Washington study of the 2018 election determined that only 142 cases of fraud were found out of 3.2 million ballots; SOS Wyman noted that most of these were double votes or “well-intentioned” family members casting votes for absent voters in the family.

Because there will be many more mail-in ballots in November 2020 than in any previous election (states could receive 40 million ballots on election eve), states need to be preparing right now for expanded voting and for election day. This includes developing a method for counting and reporting ballots, and being transparent about this process. States need a sufficient number of polling locations, poll boxes, poll workers, poll books, and internet security.

Because of the sheer number of mailed-in ballots, unlike in previous elections, Americans may not see results until late November! So states need to be working with media now. The press has an obligation to report responsibly, talking to election officials to get the straight story, and not cater to conspiracies about stolen votes.

One question posed to the panelists concerned who is allowed to receive an absentee ballot. A voter from Texas, the caregiver for a child with disabilities, said she can’t get to her polling location. Texas law, however, will not allow her to obtain an absentee ballot, and election officials are unwilling to compromise or help her. Sen. Wyden believed this sounded like a violation of constitutional rights in need of a federal remedy.

Another question concerned the postal service, a necessary component of successful VBM. While the House has passed the HEROES Act, which allocates funds to the post office, this bill must be approved before the Senate recesses in August. A successful VBM election depends on an effective postal service

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Demand that the Senate vote on the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020.
  • Call your senators and demand a yes vote on the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, particularly if your senator is a Republican. This needs to happen before the Senate goes home for August recess.
  • Call your senators and demand they support the HEROES Act, particularly if your senator is a Republican.
  • Bring attention to media’s role in the upcoming election. Media must practice responsible journalism and not call the race before all the votes are counted.
  • If you are denied an absentee ballot, contact your representatives in Congress and find out if your state has an advisory committee, which is part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and demands that states follow federal mandates.

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Rena Korb is a professional writer and editor. Her publications span from children’s books to political commentary. She volunteers as a DemCast California captain and as a leader with her local Indivisible chapter. She also is a lifelong activist, attending her first protest when she was 16. She lives in San Mateo with her family and, in non-pandemic times, enjoys playing Ultimate frisbee.

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