With the November elections approaching against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Republicans have raised important questions about the potential for an unprecedented number of Americans casting their ballots by mail, inclusive of states currently not equipped to handle such a sudden change in voting methods and preferences.
Specifically, Republicans like myself have been concerned that an overhaul of voting could open the voting process to confusion — and abuse.
But, with many states again seeing rising coronavirus hospitalizations, it’s becoming increasingly clear that something will have to be done — and fast — to prepare for millions of voting Americans for a crisis-oriented voting scenario.
Thus, election plans must include those who are most vulnerable to the virus or reasonably concerned with the risk of going to the polls in November.
Modifications to voting rules, processes, and protocols appear to be an inevitability.
Republicans ought to play an active role in ensuring that those rules are written the correct way, protecting the integrity of the elections.
Contrary to recent legislation proposed by Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a one-size-fits-all solution requiring all states to adopt "no excuse" absentee voting rules and scrap voter ID laws, Republicans should support the ability of state leaders to determine their own mail-in voting rules.
Concurrently, we should be making the case that mail-in voting reforms must be a one-time fix for the COVID-19-impacted 2020 elections, not open-ended changes to our nation's electoral process.
What we should not do is dismiss the practice as a Democratic Trojan horse.
That will leave us without a seat at the table in shaping the rules of the road for this November.
New evidence indicates that some concerns about vote-by-mail expressed by Republicans might be misplaced.
The May, 2020 special election in California’s 25th Congressional District serves as a case in point.
In an election conducted largely by mail-in voting due to COVID-19, Republican Mike Garcia handily defeated Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith in a race to replace the seat vacated by Democrat Katie Hill.
In fact, Republicans submitted nearly 10,000 more absentee ballots than Democrats, despite having received 30,000 fewer ballots due to a higher proportion of registered Democrats in the district.
In Wisconsin’s 7th District special election in May, Republican Tom Tiffany roundly defeated Democrat Tricia Zunker in an election in which more than 91,000 absentee ballots were returned.
In both cases, the evidence suggests that vote-by-mail is not the calamity that some have predicted.
While we should be careful not to read too much into just two elections, there is also evidence that Republican voters are coming to see the advantages that the opportunity of mail-in voting offers.
A recent poll from the Pew Research Center found more than two-thirds of Republicans who live in mail-in voting states favor expanding the practice.
In Florida, where Republican elected officials have been supportive of mail-in voting for years, another poll found 54% of Republicans favored sending every voter a ballot, and 64% said the government should cover the costs.
Voters could very well be worried about the consequences for democracy, if states fail to implement proper mail-in voting systems in time for the November election.
In Wisconsin’s April primary, there were five times as many requests for absentee ballots than in the 2016 primary. Only five of Milwaukee’s 180 polling places were operational for the election. At least 9,000 ballots requested by voters were never sent, and thousands of ballots reportedly were not counted due to mail-in voting problems and other issues.
That cannot be the case this November.
As it becomes increasingly likely that COVID-19 will impact the 2020 presidential election, Democrats and Republicans shunning prudent and bipartisan vote-by-mail reforms do so at their own risk.
We should embrace mail-in voting — now, but ensure that it’s done right, the first time.
John Burnett is the Managing Director and Founder of 1 Empire Group consulting firm and a business executive with over 20 years of experience in the financial services and energy pricing industries. A veteran of politics, John is an official with the New York State Republican Party and ran for New York City Comptroller in 2013. An adjunct professor at Hampton University and New York University, John’s editorials on business, the economy, policy, and politics have appeared in HuffPost, U.S. News and World Report, and Washington Examiner. He is also a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, Fox Business News, New York 1, and PIX 11 News. John holds a B.S. with honors from New York University and an MBA from The Johnson School of Management at Cornell University. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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