Mail-In Voting Is A Question Of Public Health
On election day, I head to my polling place, an assisted living center about a mile or so from my house. Checking me in and out — the poll workers whose faces I’ve come to recognize. Almost all are senior citizens like my parents were when both of them worked the polls — drawn to it as a civic duty they took seriously and because they enjoyed the day-long camaraderie of greeting voters.
Across the country retirees and senior citizens make up the largest number of poll workers across the country. They are also — as a group — at highest risk for the coronavirus. And that’s just one reason why in-person voting is no longer just about process, but about public health.
Election 2020 was going to be big even before COVID-19 sent us all into quarantine and pushed most public activities into virtual spaces. For the most part, politics and elections have taken a back seat to the nationwide effort to slow the spread of the virus. But back in early April, the scheduled special election in Wisconsin put a spotlight on voting in a pandemic.
Republicans legally challenged the order by Wisconsin’s Governor to postpone the election which was finally overturned by the state’s Supreme Court. Many millions who requested the ballots didn’t receive them in time. Those who showed up at the polls had to wait hours in line. An estimated 67 people got sick after voting in person though precise connections to the election can’t be confirmed.
Since then, Georgia and Nevada voters also faced long lines and confusion around consolidated polling sites and new equipment — all made worse because many of the veteran poll workers refused to work fearing coronavirus infection. But voters’ preference is clear: Kentucky officials expect mail in ballots to be 50 percent of ballots cast in last week’s primary, up from 2 percent. Ditto for New York officials who predict most votes cast will be mail in, way up from the typical 5 percent.
President Trump insists mail in ballots lead to voter fraud, even though he has mailed in his ballots. Many Republicans are convinced that absentee ballots give an edge to Democratic candidates. However, a Stanford study examining California’s switch to all mail in ballots found the method did not boost the numbers for either party.
Voting is extremely important to me but I’m clear about the very real risk of infection. I’m not like the cavalier folks squeezed into beaches and bars and sitting close and unmasked in political rallies. I want mail-in ballots. But I also know it takes time and money to implement an expansion of these ballots, and Massachusetts is cutting it close. The legislature is now trying to reconcile the two bills passed by the House and Senate with an eye toward getting a final bill to the Governor very soon.
I am disappointed that Senator Becca Rausch’s common-sense amendment was crushed by opposition from Secretary of State William Galvin. Her “op in vote by mail system” would have eliminated the extra step of first sending voters an application for a mail-in ballot. Sounds unnecessary and confusing to me. And to Mass Vote Executive Director Cheryl Clyburn Crawford who told MassLive, “Voters deserve to face the least amount of burdens as possible when voting this fall.”
But that ship has sailed. So all I want is for Massachusetts voters to have the choice of mail-in. Five months ago, there was but one confirmed case of coronavirus in the U.S. Now, there are almost 125,000 deaths from the disease, nearly 8,000 in Massachusetts. I’m relieved that at least in this state, citizens exercising their civic duty will not be forced to make a choice between their vote or their life.