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Vote by mail: It’s worked well in Republican Utah for years

Mail in ballots are sorted at the Salt Lake County Election Division offices in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

There has been much talk lately by the president and others insisting that voting by mail will lead to widespread fraud and will work against Republicans in the 2020 election. And yet, vote by mail has worked well in Republican Utah for many years.

In 2016, Utah had its highest turnout for a national election since 1964. More than 80% of the state’s active registered voters cast a vote in the 2016 presidential election. The leaders of both major parties were thrilled. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, attributed the record turnout to Utah’s vote-by-mail system which has been in place since 2012, the result of bipartisan state legislation.

In addition to boosting voter turnout, Cox told local reporters he believes mail-in voting helps produce more informed voters “because they actually have the ballot, and they have the opportunity to research what is on the ballot — instead of just getting in the ballot booth and finding out there are three constitutional amendments they had never heard of.”

Both experience and research have proven vote by mail to be a safe, effective way of making voting easier for those who are ill, elderly, have small children, work, are caretakers, lack transportation, or for whatever reason find it difficult to make it to the polls. Vote by mail increases voter participation without any corollary increase in the incidence of fraud.

Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, argues that “there’s no form of voting that is absolutely foolproof ... but mail voting is very secure.”

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters in May that, “In my state, I’ll bet 90% of us vote by mail. It works very, very well and it’s a very Republican state.” This percentage is verified by Justin Lee, director of elections in the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

And yet, somewhat inexplicably, President Donald Trump has taken to railing against vote by mail in recent weeks, calling it “wrought with fraud and abuse.” He has even threatened to withhold funding from states if they move toward mail-in ballots. Last week, he tweeted that if vote by mail is allowed, 2020 will be “the most inaccurate & fraudulent election in history” and then suggested that perhaps the election should be delayed.

None of these claims of fraud and abuse have been in any way substantiated. A recent analysis of data by The Washington Post and the Electronic Registration Information Center found only 372 cases of potential fraud out of nearly 15 million ballots cast by vote in 2016 and 2018. That is 0.0025%.

What, then, is causing Trump to act in such an irrational way? Doug Heye, former Republican National Committee communication director, believes “it’s just a new variation on how he was calling into question the election results before the election happened and sowing distrust.”

The president’s rants against vote by mail do, in fact, seem to be an effort to preemptively cast suspicion on the 2020 election results as his numbers continue to slip in the polls.

Given the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves during this time of COVID-19 and the urgent need for increased safety for voters during this election cycle, expanded vote-by-mail provisions just make sense. The kind of rhetoric we’re hearing from Trump is irresponsible and must be seen as nothing less than an effort to suppress the rights of voters.

Every member of Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, must have the courage to push back against this obvious attempt to interfere in our elections. Each must have enough faith in our democratic institutions and in their constituents to favor a system that makes it easier, not harder, to vote.

The fact is that vote by mail works remarkably well. This has been proven not only in Utah, but in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii as well, where all residents may mail in their vote. Many other states have limited mail-in ballot provisions, and many others, including many red states, are moving toward a vote-by-mail system.

In order to protect our democratic free elections in 2020 and to avoid last minute confusion and glitches, Congress must act quickly to appropriate funds to implement vote by mail in every state that wants it. Now, perhaps more than ever before, every single citizen of the United States of America must be allowed to safely exercise his or her right to vote.

Sharlee Mullins Glenn, a lifelong resident of Utah, is a writer, a teacher and a community organizer.