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Now’s the time to expand voting by mail in Minnesota

The arguments against vote by mail are feeble, its partisan impact is minimal, and we have every reason to expect it will be necessary to keep us all safe come election day.

Lexi Menth of Seattle holds up her vote-by-mail ballot.
Lexi Menth of Seattle holds up her vote-by-mail ballot.
REUTERS/Jason Redmond

In the wake of the calamitous elections in Wisconsin that almost certainly exposed many voters to COVID-19, Minnesota Sen. Nick Frentz, Rep. Jamie Long, and I announced a plan to ensure nothing like that would ever happen in Minnesota. No person should be forced to choose between their health and their vote, so we proposed mailing every registered voter in Minnesota a ballot and mailing every unregistered Minnesotan who is eligible to vote a registration form, both with prepaid postage for return included.

Unfortunately, these common-sense steps to defend our democracy have run into resistance from Minnesota Republicans, who’ve marshaled a remarkably feeble array of arguments against vote by mail. Here’s what they’re saying and why they’re wrong:

Many Republicans have suggested that it’s too soon to take any action for elections that are months away. They argue that the coronavirus outbreak may have improved enough by Minnesota’s August primary to render vote by mail unnecessary. This is nothing more than wishful thinking. A coronavirus vaccine is still at least a year away, and as the Republican governor of Ohio, who supports voting by mail, recently stated, things won’t return to normal until we have a vaccine. To make matters worse, public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci are predicting a COVID-19 resurgence this summer and fall.

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Given the Trump administration’s catastrophic failure to adequately prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak, it is genuinely shocking that Republicans are still arguing against preparing for the long-term consequences of this outbreak.

Already running short of time

Our elections may seem far away, but the truth is we’re already running short on time to get this done. The businesses that produce election materials need to get started by May 4. Early voting for our state primaries begins in June. The Minnesota Legislature needs time to debate and pass a bill. Election officials across the state need time to train and prepare. Minnesotans need time to learn about any changes we make to our voting system. If we are ever going to protect our elections from COVID-19, we must do so now. Republicans waited too long to respond to this crisis in the first place, and now they want to wait to respond again.

Ken Martin
Ken Martin
The next argument against vote by mail is that ballots traveling through our postal system are not secure and are at risk of being tampered with. However, this has not been a problem for the states that already conduct elections entirely by mail, the members of our military who vote by mail, the Minnesotans who submit an absentee ballot by mail, or for the 130,000 Minnesotans who live in municipalities that already conduct their elections entirely by mail. Concerns over security are purely hypothetical, whereas the risks of sending people to the polls during a pandemic are painfully evident.

Similarly, while Republicans argue that vote by mail increases the chances of voter fraud, that argument is simply not borne out by the data. No evidence exists to support the notion that there’s rampant voter fraud among the aforementioned millions of Americans who already vote by mail. Shortly after his inauguration, President Trump even formed a commission to investigate voter fraud. Less than a year later, the commission was disbanded by the White House after finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud of any kind.

The elephant in the room

This brings us to the literal elephant in the room: The real reason Republicans want to block expanded vote by mail is that they worry it will increase turnout among Democratic voters. Trump himself said that if everyone voted by mail, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” I’m sure it will shock no one to hear that Trump has no idea what he’s talking about. ​A review of the studies​ conducted around vote by mail found little discernible partisan advantage going to either side. The only real difference with voting by mail is that more people end up voting, which is a good thing. A democracy works best when more people participate.

Our democracy must be defended from COVID-19, and an expanded vote by mail program is the best way to do that. The arguments against vote by mail are feeble, its partisan impact is minimal, and we have every reason to expect it will be necessary to keep us all safe come election day. The time to expand voting by mail is now.

As the chairman of the Minnesota DFL Party, I’m not in the habit of offering advice to my friends across the aisle, but I’ll make an exception in this case. Republicans, if you really are concerned about the electoral implications of vote by mail, take a moment to consider how Minnesotans will react when your party forces people to vote in-person during the most deadly pandemic our planet has seen in a century.

Ken Martin is the chairman of the Minnesota DFL Party.

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