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Scenes like Georgia — and Wisconsin before that — have ignited a national conversation about voting by mail. In response, President Trump claimed that voting by mail “will lead to massive fraud” and will favor the Democratic Party. In particular, Twitter even placed a fact-check warning in one of Trump’s tweets about voting by mail, breaking with his previous practice of not reporting Trump’s falsehoods.

Voting by mail does not favor one party over the other, according to a 2020 study by Stanford University. Additionally, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed that 70% of Americans are in favor of allowing people to vote by mail. Even when broken down by political party, 87% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans are in favor of expanding mail voting.

“Undermining voter confidence in the system is a form of voter suppression,” said Raúl Macías, an attorney for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Millions of Americans have voted securely by mail for decades.”

The Brennan Center, a non-partisan institute of law and policy, has recommended that states provide a universal vote-by-mail option to hold fair elections during the pandemic.

As of May 2020, 29 states and Washington, DC, have no excuses to vote absentee, and five other states hold elections entirely by mail with limited in-person voting options. However, 16 states still require voters to provide an “excuse” to receive an absentee ballot. While most states with a “required excuse” vote have ruled that the new coronavirus outbreak is a valid reason to receive an absentee ballot, four of them (Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, and Texas) have not conducted changes necessary to allow absentee voting widely available during the pandemic.

In Texas, the state Supreme Court went so far as to block a ruling that would allow Texans to use the pandemic as a reason to vote by mail. As it stands, Texas will only send absentee ballots to voters who are 65 or older, disabled, out of the county during the election period, or confined in jail.

According to MOVE Texas, a non-profit organization focused on civic participation of young people in Texas, the ruling is anti-voter and could lead to voter suppression by forcing residents to choose between their health and voting. But seeing the state government’s anti-voting decisions comes as no surprise to the MOVE team.

“In the past, we have seen elections as a problem at the state level,” said Raven Douglas, political director of MOVE Texas. “But, after the 2019 legislative session where we were able to defeat […] a very bad anti-voter law, we met with various partner organizations and decided that we could no longer trust our state government to pass pro-democratic reform. “

So, in addition to initiating a petition to express the organization’s disappointment in the Texas Supreme Court ruling against voting by mail, MOVE Texas is reaching out to local officials to help voters in other ways. Douglas noted that county officials can greenlight curbside voting options, extend the clerk’s office hours, provide additional mailboxes, and more.

“You don’t have to wait for your governor or secretary of state to approve the orientation, you can do it directly with your election administrator and your county clerks,” said Douglas.

Macías also recognizes the need for an expansion of the vote in person during the next elections.

“We believe that it is really important that every voter have the opportunity to vote by mail this election, but the vote should also be held in person,” said Macías. That means modifying polling places to conform to social distancing guidelines, expanding early voting, facilitating voter registration online or by mail, and investing in educational programs on how this election might be different from what voters are accustomed.

In addition, Macías points out that for most states to expand their vote for mail systems to handle a much larger volume of ballots, they will need new equipment, such as ballot sorters, signature verification software, optical scanning devices, and sufficient printers. to handle The expected increase in applications and ballots.

“We really want Congress to send more money to help election officials conduct their elections,” said Macías. “This is really the time that the federal government needs to step up. It is too important.”

In Michigan, Voters Not Politicians, a pro-democracy organization, advocates an even more radical solution: skip the application process and simply send absentee ballots to all voters, with postage-paid envelopes, for the November election, via a campaign called VoteSafe.

“We are running out of time,” said Nancy Wang, editorial director of Voters Not Politicians. “Our campaign started seven weeks ago and every day it gets more and more difficult.”

VoteSafe is calling on state officials to take other measures to combat deprivation of voter rights, such as providing secure voting booths and accessible voting places that follow sanitation and social distancing protocols, to increase funding for security and monitoring of ballots and expand access to the offices of local secretaries. before election day.

“We would not be blazing a trail here, we would really be following best practices,” Wang said, citing expert advice the organization received from the former Denver director of elections. Colorado is viewed as a leader in voter integrity and voter politics.

One of those best practices is to run a culturally competent education campaign, which means that Wang and his team must be sensitive to the history of different communities when voting and attending to it. For example, says Wang, some people don’t trust the US Postal Service. So there must be enough physical ballot mailboxes and in-person polling places for voters who may be deterred from having to mail their ballot.

“You need to make sure you’re creating a system that doesn’t deprive voters for other reasons,” said Wang. To do this, Voters Not Politicians has partnered with community groups across Michigan to make sure that the messages and education that surround them elections are responsive and resonate with state communities.

“This issue is really a concern for organizations working not only in the voting rights spaces,” said Wang. “Other groups in the state are doing a really good, great job.”

Partnerships with non-voting rights organizations can also help demonstrate that voting by mail is not a partisan problem, says Wang. Most Michigan voters support expanding voting options: 67 % of voters approved a 2018 proposal to expand voting by mail.

“We should try to facilitate voting for everyone, particularly in this electoral cycle,” said Macías. “We should not ask voters to choose between their health and their vote.”

That same sentiment is what prompted the nonpartisan Democracy North Carolina to join several other constituencies and constituencies in a lawsuit demanding that the state take “the necessary steps to ensure a fair and safe election in November.”

“The decision to sue came down to the fact that our general assembly has a history of inaction on voting rights issues or open hostility to voting rights,” said Tomás López, the group’s executive director.

What is needed, according to the Democracy North Carolina lawsuit, is a relaxation of voter registration requirements, making in-person voting safer and ballot boxes available, and facilitating the absentee voting process. While North Carolina is an unexcused absentee voting state, meaning anyone can request to receive an absentee ballot by mail, absentee voters must obtain the signatures of two witnesses or a notary in order for their ballot to be counted. in absence.

According to López, 4% of North Carolina voters voted by mail in 2016, but the state board of elections predicts that 30% to 40% of voters will vote by mail this year. López fears that with the social distancing orders, absentee voters will not be able to acquire two witnesses or a notary, and will not send their ballot or will send and reject the ballot.

“All we are doing is trying to make sure that our electoral rules respond to the reality that people have to live in,” he said.

Another reality is that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting black and brown communities, the same communities that suffer the most from voter suppression efforts.

“One of the really troubling parts of this is that, in the absence of the kind of changes that we are presenting, access to voting for black and brown North Carolinians will take a double whammy, from COVID and all the ways it is affecting to the communities, and in all the ways that the electoral rules do not respond, “López said.

“The choice is already different, the question is whether the rules will respond or not,” López said. “All of these COVID response issues are rooted in things we’d like to see in November.”

Posted again with permission from Yes! Magazine.

ISABELLA GARCIA is a former solutions journalism intern for YES !.

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