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Analysis

Americans of All Stripes Want a Mail Ballot Option

As the president wages a disinformation campaign against mail voting, nearly 80 percent of Americans want a mail ballot option this November.

April 10, 2020

As the coronavirus looms over the 2020 elec­tion, Pres­id­ent Trump has begun to attack vote by mail. Unfor­tu­nately for him, that’s a losing argu­ment. A strong major­ity of Amer­ic­ans — includ­ing 57 percent of Repub­lic­ans — want the oppor­tun­ity to safely cast their votes by mail without having to wait in long lines or crowds.

A new Bren­nan Center poll finds that four out of five Amer­ic­ans believe states should give all voters the option of unex­cused mail ballots during the Novem­ber elec­tion. The poll, conduc­ted by the Benen­son Strategy Group between March 22 and 24, reached a repres­ent­at­ive sample of 1,550 adults, 90 percent of whom were registered voters. Our poll tracks a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that found 72 percent of Amer­ic­ans, includ­ing 65 percent of Repub­lic­ans, want a mail ballot option for Novem­ber 3.

Vote by mail is only one solu­tion. It would not be possible to shift to this exclus­ively nation­wide by Novem­ber, even if it were a good idea. Many voters want or need to vote in person. Elec­tion Day itself, of course, cannot be post­poned without a new federal stat­ute — and that would be utterly ille­git­im­ate. There must be ample early voting oppor­tun­it­ies nation­wide. That, too, is broadly popu­lar, accord­ing to the new Bren­nan Center poll. Two-thirds of Amer­ic­ans — includ­ing 43 percent of Repub­lic­ans and 65 percent of inde­pend­ents — also support allow­ing Elec­tion Day to take place over a time period of as much as two weeks to ensure that no one has to wait in long lines.

This, of course, makes sense: Amer­ic­ans do not want to put their health in jeop­ardy by going to crowded polling places if the virus has a resur­gence this fall. Trump, however, sees a dark conspir­acy afoot. He says vote by mail creates a “[t]remend­ous poten­tial voter fraud” and that it “does­n’t work out well for Repub­lic­ans.”

Both are untrue.

Much of the coun­try already votes by mail ballots with infin­ites­imal fraud. Five states run their elec­tions almost entirely by vote by mail. In 28 states and the District of Columbia, voters have the right to request a no-excuse absentee ballot. In some of these states — includ­ing Cali­for­nia and Arizona — most citizens vote from home.

There is also no evid­ence that vote by mail bene­fits one party more than another. It’s used in Repub­lican Utah and narrowly divided Color­ado. Conser­vat­ive public­a­tions and groups, such as the Wash­ing­ton TimesNational Review, and the Amer­ican Enter­prise Insti­tute, have published pieces in favor of vote by mail. If the pres­id­ent believes vote by mail is “corrupt,” he has a funny way of show­ing it.

In any case, we have no choice. 

Wiscon­sin shows what can happen all across the coun­try in Novem­ber. In the Badger State, voters can cast ballots by mail, but the volume of last-minute requests swelled the number of mail ballots issued to nearly 1.3 million from around 250,000 four years ago, over­whelm­ing the system. The state’s conser­vat­ive supreme court then blocked the governor’s move to post­pone voting, and the U.S. Supreme Court over­turned a lower court decision that would have allowed more ballots to be coun­ted. In Milwau­kee, the number of polling places dropped from 178 to 5. Primary day saw the horri­fy­ing specter of people risk­ing their health to wait in line to vote.

Congress has a chance to avoid more debacles in Novem­ber. The Bren­nan Center has issued a plan for a free, fair, secure, and safe elec­tion in 2020. We’ve estim­ated the cost: at least $2 billion — and that’s just for Novem­ber. Congress acted in the third coronavirus stim­u­lus bill, appro­pri­at­ing $400 million to go to states to help them prepare. Now Congress must do more, appro­pri­at­ing all needed funds. States have limited time to get ready.

Without action, it’s hard to escape the conclu­sion that the pres­id­ent and his acolytes hope to use the crisis to collapse turnout. If they do, they will discover they are running up against a solid wall of support for needed voting changes — support from Repub­lic­ans, Demo­crats, and inde­pend­ents. Voters want to vote. Politi­cians should let them.