We've got the Gold Standard
By Jean Godden
Leaders of political parties, often at odds with one another, do agree on one thing: This November's election will be one of the most critical in the nation's history. What matters now is how will we conduct that most important of elections.
For voters in Washington state there is excellent news. Once again, we will be voting by mail. We will receive our ballots in the mail. We'll have time to consider how to vote. Then we'll be able to either to drop our ballots in the mail, postage paid, or pop them into a drop box. Our state's elections have been made easier and more secure than ever.
At present, this state's universal vote-by-mail system is one of five in the nation. We're joined only by Colorado, Utah, Hawaii and Oregon. California and Arizona are trending that direction with voters able to add themselves to a permanent list of mail voters. Then there are states like Nebraska which permits counties with less than 10,000 people to mail ballots to voters but forbids it in large urban areas. Texas has absentee voting, no excuse needed, for people 65 and older.
Washington's system of mail-in voting has now become the gold standard. Our election officials are busy fielding how-to inquiries from other states. That's no surprise after what happened in Wisconsin when the Supreme Court majority forced voters to risk their safety and maybe their lives.
Given choices before us, it is most unfortunate that mail-in voting has drawn heavy opposition from many Republicans, among them President Trump. The president said that, if the United States ever switched to all-mail voting, "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." His flawed view has been echoed by others. One Kentucky Republican said universal mail voting would be "the end of our republic as we know it."
However, leading experts who have studied vote-by-mail say none of that is true. States and counties that have shifted to all-mail voting have shown little evidence of partisan advantage. Studies in states like Utah, which skews heavily Republican, saw only slight changes in outcome despite a sizeable jump in turnout.
President Trump's argument against vote-by-mail also insisted that it would lead to widespread cheating and fraud. This charge, too, has been discounted by academic observers who are not finding such evidence.
Despite Trump's opposition, there has been some Republican support for transitioning to mail elections. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine and the state's GOP secretary of state recorded a video promoting the state's first all-mail elections this month. Here in Washington, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, pushed for mail elections when she was a local official. She says that she doesn't think voting by mail benefits either party.
Here in King County, elections director Julie Wise, has been a firm advocate of vote-by-mail. She was the first official to advocate for postage-paid ballots, convincing King County to underwrite postage. That prompted the state to follow suit providing postage-paid ballots throughout Washington.
Both Wyman and Wise continue to hear from officials in other states who want to learn more about this state's system. After all, Washington's recent vote-by-mail election had the highest percentage turnout in the nation.
Mail-in voting is the natural move forward at this time, a system that promotes social distancing and electoral integrity, the safest approach during a pandemic. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have introduced a bill to promote national vote-by-mail as well as permit early voting. They believe this approach, if successful, would decrease the spread of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, citizens of this state can take comfort knowing that they are leading the way. We're showing the nation how to achieve a gold standard for democracy.