Coronavirus 'worst-case scenario': Could the presidential vote be done by mail?

  
Via:  perrie-halpern  •  2 months ago  •  54 comments

By:   Alex Seitz-Wald

Coronavirus 'worst-case scenario': Could the presidential vote be done by mail?
"In this extraordinary, unprecedented moment, there is an opportunity," says Michigan's secretary of state.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



WASHINGTON — If the   coronavirus pandemic   continues to make in-person voting   virtually impossible   by November, conducting the 2020   presidential election   largely by mail isn't out of the question.

Advocates say a massive expansion of vote-by-mail is technically feasible, but may require more time, money and political willpower than is available, with the $400 million included in Congress' new stimulus bill just the beginning of the need.

"In my view, with the right leadership and with the right amount of funding by the federal government, most states would be able to go to a vote-by-mail system for November — if we begin planning now,” said Jocelyn Benson, the secretary of state in Michigan, where vote-by-mail has exploded in popularity since voters there approved a referendum in 2018 to allow anyone to request a mail-in absentee ballot.

"In this extraordinary, unprecedented moment, there is an opportunity," Benson added.

An American presidential election has never been postponed or canceled, but a majority of poll workers are   over the age of 60 , a group at heightened risk for COVID-19, and health officials have discouraged crowds like the kind that are generally unavoidable at polling places.

"It's either going to be vote-by-mail or nothing if we have to deal with a worst-case scenario," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is sponsoring an emergency bill to expand vote-by-mail, told reporters on a conference call.

Others say vote-by-mail would have to be part of a suite of responses, such as extended early in-person voting with crowd controls and " curbside voting ," which allows voters concerned about entering a polling place to return a ballot without leaving their car.

Epidemiologists say there’s no way of knowing how long the pandemic will last and warn that even if the virus retreats over the summer, it could return in a second wave in the fall as temperatures dip again, following the pattern of the Spanish Flu of 1918, potentially jeopardizing the most important expression of American democracy.

A growing list of states have responded by delaying upcoming primary elections and curbing or eliminating in-person voting, which could serve as a test run for November.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates it would cost   $2 billion   to prepare the country for a national election, centered around a massive expansion of vote-by-mail, during the coronavirus. Advocates are   disappointed   by the $400 million in grants to states included in the stimulus package and say more will be needed.

But some Republicans are already chafing at what they see as attempts to nationalize vote-by-mail, calling it a dangerous incursion onto states' rights since states, not the federal government, are responsible for their own elections under the Constitution.

Others on the right, though,   support vote-by-mail   and warn it should   not become a partisan issue .

There are those on the left who are warning that "Trump could try to cancel the election if we don't institute Vote By Mail," as Larry Cohen, a co-chair of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign and head of the allied group Our Revolution, said in a fundraising email.

There's no central decision point to get to national vote-by-mail, since the Constitution puts each state in charge of its own elections.

"There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but instead a 50-state solution," the head of the National Association of Secretaries of State wrote in an open-letter Tuesday. "In particular, states may increase their vote by mail presence, extend absentee mail ballot request deadlines, increase drive-up curbside voting, and/or expand absentee voting eligibility."

Instead, the 42 states that do not currently vote primarily by mail would have to work in parallel to adjust laws, start planning, hire vendors, set up central processing facilities and educate voters about the new system, while hoping the federal government helps foot the huge bill.

"Considering the time necessary to order and set up required equipment and other infrastructure, we believe a decision needs to be made by April 15 or sooner to make this happen in various states ahead of the November election," the National Vote at Home Institute, which advocates for voting-by-mail, wrote in new   blueprint   for states to massively scale up vote-by-mail by the general election.

Nearly 7-in-10 ballots cast west of Colorado are now cast by mail, according to the Vote at Home Institute, with five Western states voting entirely by mail and three more heading that way. But only 27 percent of ballots nationwide are cast via mail, leaving plenty of ground to make up.

The simplest solution might be for states to use current laws to dramatically expand mail voting by, for instance, mailing every voter an absentee ballot request form and a postage-paid return envelope.

That's what Republican Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia, where just 5 percent of voters cast their ballot by mail in the last two elections,   plans to   do ahead of his state's postponed May 19 primary, sending absentee ballot requests forms to an estimated 6.9 million people.

Nevada , another battleground state, and   Rhode Island   have already moved to conduct their rescheduled June primaries almost entirely by mail, while Ohio's governor and secretary of state, both Republicans,   want to   implement a postage-paid vote-by-mail election ahead of their state's rescheduled June 2 primary. Maryland and New Jersey plan to hold down-ballot elections scheduled throughout the next three months   entirely by mail , and that could help pave the way for November.

West Virginia has added fear of the coronavirus as a valid excuse to vote absentee, while Indiana temporarily suspended the state's absentee voting requirements, allowing anyone to cast a ballot by mail in their primary.

Every state that isn't used to voting primarily by mail will have to prepare for a huge increase in volume, said Kim Wyman, the secretary of state in Washington and a Republican.

Washington has been conducting elections entirely by mail for several years, including its recent Democratic presidential primary election on March 10 while the state was rocked by the pandemic.

Wyman said she's been inundated with calls from colleagues in other states seeking advice.

"It started about two weeks ago, when states started realizing that the sheer volume of people it's going to take to stand up an election is going to be very difficult amidst this outbreak," she said.

"The first thing I say is people need to understand the context," she said. "I am probably the biggest champion of vote by mail in the country, but it took us five years to move from polling places to vote-by-mail."

Voters need to be told not only how to vote, but to expect that election nights— including the big one in November — could feel completely unlike anything they're used to.

Mailed ballots typically take much longer to count because, among other reasons, of the security measures needed to verify them without the voter present (it took almost a week for NBC News and other outlets to declare a winner in Washington, for instance).

"You’re going to need days, maybe weeks to process elections after a high-turnout election to process results," Wyman said. Counties in Washington have 20 days to finalize results and "they use every one of those days in our state," she added.

While voters and poll workers might be safe from the coronavirus if they can cast a ballot by mail, centralized ballot processing facilities could grind the count to a halt if one worker tests positive. And the system would depend on the U.S. Postal Service, which is under its own strains.

Critics on the right   raise concerns   about ballot security and voter fraud, warning it's more difficult to verify identity without voters showing up in person (most vote-by-mail systems depend on signature matching for security). And critics say mailed ballots create opportunities for bad actors to tamper with or destroy ballots before they're returned, or for people to coerce others to vote a certain way.

Civil rights advocates, too, while intrigued by the power of sending every voter a ballot, warn that moving the process beyond the watchful eye of poll workers can create opportunities for discrimination and coercion, for instance by domineering spouses or employers.

"I am deeply concerned about unchecked mass vote-by-mail in November if we're not mindful of the kinds of discrimination that we’ve seen in the past," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

For instance, the group took Gwinnett County, Georgia,   to court   during the 2018 election when it discovered that absentee ballots were being rejected at much higher rates for black voters than white voters, Clarke said.

Voting at home can also be a challenge for non-English speakers or people who need help properly navigating the ballot, as well as for Native Americans living on reservations who don't have addresses.

And for some voters, such older African-Americans who remember a time before the Civil Rights movement, it can be difficult to trust that a ballot dropped in a mailbox will really be counted.

"I think it’s important that we work to get vote by mail right," Clarke said. "We will have to invest a lot of effort in educating voters to make them trust the system."

No matter what, the 2020 election will likely be a watershed moment in voting-by-mail. The practice was already on the rise and fears of the coronavirus are now pushing even more voters to take advantage of current laws, let alone expanded ones, which could overwhelm officials if they don't prepare.

In Wisconsin, for instance, which has resisted rescheduling its April 7 primary, election clerks report a   shortage of envelopes   due to a spike in demand for absentee ballots. As of Friday, some 380,000 Wisconsinites had requested absentee ballots — way up from the nearly 250,000 who asked for one during the 2016 presidential election.

"We're telling people that you’re going to see a surge in mail-ballots no matter what, so you need to prepare for it," said Audrey Kline, the policy director of the National Vote at Home Institute. "We're just trying to help states prepare for what we see as the coming tidal wave."


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Kavika
1  Kavika     2 months ago

Not being able to predict the future of coronavirus and when and if it will recede state better get to hopping on the vote by mail option. 

 
 
 
MUVA
1.1  MUVA  replied to  Kavika @1    2 months ago

I'm thinking martial  law and no election and Trump is president for the rest of his life.

 
 
 
r.t..b...
1.1.1  r.t..b...  replied to  MUVA @1.1    2 months ago
and no election

If the election is cancelled, martial law will need to be enacted to deal with the ensuing mayhem in the streets. I hope you are just being facetious here, particularly with the 'putinesque' last part of your comment.

 
 
 
devangelical
1.1.2  devangelical  replied to  MUVA @1.1    2 months ago

[deleted]

 
 
 
devangelical
1.1.3  devangelical  replied to  r.t..b... @1.1.1    2 months ago

no worries, per the US Constitution, congress is the only branch of gov't that can postpone an election.

 
 
 
MUVA
1.1.4  MUVA  replied to  r.t..b... @1.1.1    2 months ago

Yes I being flippant I think voting by mail may have to be a alternative.

 
 
 
Larry Hampton
1.1.5  Larry Hampton  replied to  MUVA @1.1.4    2 months ago

It amazes me the number of people on NTer’s that “flippantly” suggest that rump should takeover the press, punish his critics, gag judges, or set himself up as the ongoing president of the US. When it happens as often as it does, and with such seeming seriousness, it makes one wonder about the honesty of the declared flippancy. 

 
 
 
MUVA
1.1.6  MUVA  replied to  Larry Hampton @1.1.5    2 months ago

You should shit in one hand and ponder in the other and then get over yourself.

 
 
 
bugsy
1.1.7  bugsy  replied to  Larry Hampton @1.1.5    2 months ago
It amazes me the number of people on NTer’s that “flippantly” suggest that rump should takeover the press, punish his critics, gag judges, or set himself up as the ongoing president of the US. When it happens as often as it does, and with such seeming seriousness, it makes one wonder about the honesty of the declared flippancy. 

Kinda like how liberals were calling for a third term for Obama. We all know that if somehow he did get a third term, they would be demanding unlimited terms because he was "the chosen one".

 
 
 
r.t..b...
1.1.8  r.t..b...  replied to  bugsy @1.1.7    2 months ago

Does that really contribute anything to the facts at hand? We are facing a existential threat...are those that are in place able to deal with it? Here’s hoping they are. 

 
 
 
bugsy
1.1.9  bugsy  replied to  r.t..b... @1.1.8    2 months ago
Does that really contribute anything to the facts at hand?

Maybe you should ask that same question to Larry. I responded to his post accordingly.

 
 
 
CB
1.1.10  CB   replied to  r.t..b... @1.1.1    2 months ago

The constitution mandates a election for the office of president every four years. It can not be undone, without an amendment to the supreme document of the United States.

 
 
 
CB
1.1.11  CB   replied to  bugsy @1.1.7    2 months ago

Whataboutism does not work in this case. People can 'fancy' all they want, but the constitution (22nd amendment) mandates two terms only.

 
 
 
Ozzwald
1.1.12  Ozzwald  replied to  devangelical @1.1.3    2 months ago
no worries, per the US Constitution, congress is the only branch of gov't that can postpone an election.

Except Trump has the SCOTUS in his pocket.  Constitution says the House Ways and Means Committee can get ANYONE'S tax return.  How is that working out?

 
 
 
XDm9mm
1.1.13  XDm9mm  replied to  Ozzwald @1.1.12    2 months ago
Constitution says the House Ways and Means Committee can get ANYONE'S tax return.

Within reason and the SCOTUS....   LONG BEFORE Trump was elected ruled in a couple of cases:

First, the law. While it is true that IRS Code 6103(f) appears to give the committee the power to get tax returns, the statute must be exercised in a way consistent with Congress’ constitutional authority. The Supreme Court has said Congress has broad authority to conduct inquiries but that its authority is not unlimited. In the 1881 case Kilbourn v. Thompson , the Supreme Court held that Congress can’t use its powers to delve into someone’s private financial matters unless there is a proper legislative purpose. In 1957, the Supreme Court held in Watkins v. U.S. that a congressional information demand must relate to a “legitimate task of the Congress” and noted that Congress is not a “law enforcement agency” that can seek information to uncover or expose crimes.

Source:  https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/04/04/why-congress-might-not-get-trumps-tax-returns-226571

 
 
 
1stwarrior
1.1.14  1stwarrior  replied to  Ozzwald @1.1.12    2 months ago

Wow - I really wanna see your version of the Constitution.  Ya wanna show us just where the Constitution makes that statement????

Probably not.

 
 
 
XDm9mm
1.1.15  XDm9mm  replied to  1stwarrior @1.1.14    2 months ago
Ya wanna show us just where the Constitution makes that statement????

I'll simply accept where it claims the "House Ways and Means Committee".   I know that committee, hell ANY committee, is not noted anywhere in the Constitution that I can find.

 
 
 
Ozzwald
1.1.16  Ozzwald  replied to  XDm9mm @1.1.13    2 months ago
Within reason

Would you care to point out the words "within reason" in the Constitution?

 
 
 
Ozzwald
1.1.17  Ozzwald  replied to  XDm9mm @1.1.15    2 months ago
 I know that committee, hell ANY committee, is not noted anywhere in the Constitution that I can find.

You are correct, but SCOTUS interprets many things not being specifically noted in the Constitution as applying to non-specified matters.

 
 
 
loki12
1.1.18  loki12  replied to  Ozzwald @1.1.16    2 months ago

Point out in the Constitution where it says the house ways and means can get anybodies taxes, The article and and paragraph will be fine.

 
 
 
XDm9mm
1.1.19  XDm9mm  replied to  Ozzwald @1.1.16    2 months ago
Would you care to point out the words "within reason" in the Constitution?

Much like your bullshit is not in the Constitution "within reason" is not either, but it is within the statute.

 
 
 
The Magic Eight Ball
1.1.20  The Magic Eight Ball  replied to  Ozzwald @1.1.12    2 months ago
Constitution says the House Ways and Means Committee can get ANYONE'S tax return.

that is probably the most bs I have ever seen in one place.

too funny :)

 
 
 
squiggy
1.2  squiggy  replied to  Kavika @1    2 months ago

I have a bag of ballots - ready to go.

 
 
 
devangelical
2  devangelical    2 months ago
Republicans are already chafing at what they see as attempts to nationalize vote-by-mail, calling it a dangerous incursion onto states' rights

... completely mysterious as to why they want to eliminate the USPS so badly. oh wait, I guess it is a bit more difficult to determine a person's skin color by looking at an envelope.

 
 
 
r.t..b...
2.1  r.t..b...  replied to  devangelical @2    2 months ago
calling it a dangerous incursion onto states' rights

Seems some are still fighting the Civil War.

 
 
 
XDm9mm
2.1.1  XDm9mm  replied to  r.t..b... @2.1    2 months ago
Seems some are still fighting the Civil War.

True.  When will you cease?

 
 
 
loki12
2.1.2  loki12  replied to  XDm9mm @2.1.1    2 months ago

Gee, Isn't it the democrats who think African Americans are too stupid to get ID's to vote? And too stupid to get into colleges or get Jobs without their help?  It seems some can't get over their guilt and continue to hold their prejudices. 

 
 
 
Snuffy
2.2  Snuffy  replied to  devangelical @2    2 months ago
Republicans are already chafing at what they see as attempts to nationalize vote-by-mail, calling it a dangerous incursion onto states' rights
... completely mysterious as to why they want to eliminate the USPS so badly. oh wait, I guess it is a bit more difficult to determine a person's skin color by looking at an envelope.

The problem is right there in your statement.  I've even bolded the word to bring attention to it.  Voting is a states right issue,  any attempt to nationalize the election is wrong. The federal government can provide assistance when asked but you definitely do not want the federal government to manage the process.  I mean damn,  if that were to be nationalized the bitching about the Electoral College would be viewed as a very minor tiff. Can  you just imagine the uproar by the losing party if the incumbent is re-elected in a nationalized election?

 
 
 
devangelical
2.2.1  devangelical  replied to  Snuffy @2.2    2 months ago

do the letters FEC ring any bells?

 
 
 
Snuffy
2.2.2  Snuffy  replied to  devangelical @2.2.1    2 months ago

Sure,  directly from the FEC.GOV website their mission is :

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the independent regulatory agency charged with administering and enforcing the federal campaign finance law. The FEC has jurisdiction over the financing of campaigns for the U.S. House, Senate, Presidency and the Vice Presidency.

The entire website says nothing about running the election but insuring transparency and fairly enforcing and administering federal campaign finance laws.

U.S. election laws date back to Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution. This gave states the responsibility of overseeing federal elections.

 
 
 
Snuffy
2.2.3  Snuffy  replied to  devangelical @2.2.1    2 months ago

So...  I replied to your comment about the FEC.  Still nothing from you on states being responsible for voting and not the federal government?  Still nothing about what you think the aftermath may be if the incumbent party wins big in a nationalized election?  anything?

 
 
 
The Magic Eight Ball
3  The Magic Eight Ball    2 months ago
 there is an opportunity,"

for unprecedented voter fraud.

the answer is?   not going to happen.

cheers :)

 
 
 
XDm9mm
3.1  XDm9mm  replied to  The Magic Eight Ball @3    2 months ago
for unprecedented voter fraud.

Or to clean up the voter roles.

Send out ballots to currently registered voters and require signature return cards to validate receipt by the individual.  Vacant lots and cemeteries are not viable addresses for delivery. 

 
 
 
loki12
3.1.1  loki12  replied to  XDm9mm @3.1    2 months ago

Since we have no Idea how many homeless or illegals are here..........What could go wrong. We could just put off tax day until November and send your choice with your check to the IRS. State reps could be included with your state payment.  

 
 
 
bugsy
3.2  bugsy  replied to  The Magic Eight Ball @3    2 months ago
for unprecedented voter fraud.

Leaves it open to many mysterious mail bags of "uncounted" ballots that liberals seem to find every election year.

Mail only ballots would be a dream come true for them.

 
 
 
Freedom Warrior
3.2.1  Freedom Warrior  replied to  bugsy @3.2    2 months ago

Suddenly you would have people being paid to harvest ballots just like those who get paid for signatures on petitions they would of course promote it as job creation.

 
 
 
Ender
4  Ender    2 months ago

I say do it and make it mandatory for every eligible adult.

I bet if every voting age citizen voted we would see some change.

 
 
 
Freedom Warrior
4.1  Freedom Warrior  replied to  Ender @4    2 months ago

Change as in expediting the Idiocracy.

 
 
 
JBB
4.1.1  JBB  replied to  Freedom Warrior @4.1    2 months ago

Trumpism is a reality version of Idiocracy!  

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy

 
 
 
Ender
4.1.2  Ender  replied to  Freedom Warrior @4.1    2 months ago

Seems to me the idiocracy already votes, so couldn't hurt.

 
 
 
Freedom Warrior
4.1.3  Freedom Warrior  replied to  Ender @4.1.2    2 months ago

Well if you go by that logic would dictate less not more would be better

 
 
 
Ender
4.1.4  Ender  replied to  Freedom Warrior @4.1.3    2 months ago

The way I look at it, the people that mostly vote now, the loyal voters are the partisans.

Most sane people hate politics. We might get a lot more moderate people in office.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
5  Nerm_L    2 months ago

Well, planning for the worst case scenario is prudent but unsupported by the numbers.  The interesting thing about the proposal is that all the mail in ballots would be paper, of necessity.  No hanging chads or electronic glitches.  Paper ballots would slow the counting of votes but will provide a more reliable result.  And paper ballots provide more credible results for a recount.

Since the planning is underway to utilize paper ballots then the approach should be adopted quite soon; no matter if voting must be done by mail or can be done at polling stations.  Planning to use paper ballots now will avoid last minute disruptions to accommodate the pandemic.

 
 
 
Freewill
6  Freewill    2 months ago

One would think that with today's technology a good heavily encrypted online voting system could be implemented.  It would of course need to be supplemented by a mail or absentee ballot system to accommodate those without online access, either via computer or smart phone.

 
 
 
Ender
6.1  Ender  replied to  Freewill @6    2 months ago

With smartphones having a camera, it would be easy for recognition.

 
 
 
Ronin2
6.2  Ronin2  replied to  Freewill @6    2 months ago

I am willing to bet the world's hackers are far smarter than any companies the states, or even federal government, could get to write the encryption code.  We could have a real argument over which country hacked our election then.

 
 
 
Freewill
6.2.1  Freewill  replied to  Ronin2 @6.2    2 months ago
We could have a real argument over which country hacked our election then.

Possibly.  Although blockchain technology might be the answer to that.  I'd like to hear what those who have real knowledge of the technology and how it might apply to a system of secure voting.  Certainly such technologies are being developed for the financial and even medical records industries. 

 
 
 
Snuffy
6.2.2  Snuffy  replied to  Freewill @6.2.1    2 months ago
Certainly such technologies are being developed for the financial and even medical records industries. 

Working for one of the largest health insurance companies  (oh damn,  I said it.  Please don't hunt my ass down just cuz I work for an evil empire..  old fat men gotta eat too ya know)  we started looking at blockchain for medical records a few years back. The decision was not to put a lot of money into it without a clear idea which way it would go.  Sort of like the old VHS vs Beta wars (or  for  you younger kids the war between Blu-Ray and HD).  Nobody wants to put a lot of money into a process that won't be the winner.

 
 
 
dennis smith
7  dennis smith    2 months ago

If it becomes necessary to have the General Election be done by mail, so be it.

I would also suggest eliminating Senators and Reps in Congress stop making weekly trips to DC and having living quarters there. They can teleconference and vote from their home states. Many millions of taxpayer dollars would no longer be needed for their travel and expenses to DC. 

It was painful to see how they repeat themselves over and over as evidenced by the impeachment and the recent back and forth on the stimulus package. 

A summary of Congressional doings can be made available so the voters can think for themselves about who to vote for and support instead of listening to the partisan players who have no agenda except to win the next election.

 
 
 
Vic Eldred
8  Vic Eldred    2 months ago

Prediction: By late summer this virus will be but a memory.

 
 
 
Freewill
8.1  Freewill  replied to  Vic Eldred @8    2 months ago
By late summer this virus will be but a memory.

Hope you are right man!  A lot of people hurting right now.

 
 
 
Vic Eldred
8.1.1  Vic Eldred  replied to  Freewill @8.1    2 months ago

As Dr Birx said - we need to do everything right!

 
 
 
FLYNAVY1
8.2  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Vic Eldred @8    2 months ago

It was also said that the chance for a secondary outbreak in the fall is highly likely.

 
 
 
Freewill
8.2.1  Freewill  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @8.2    2 months ago
It was also said that the chance for a secondary outbreak in the fall is highly likely

Yikes!  Hope not!  Where did you hear that?

 
 
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