As November’s election inches closer and closer, little has become more controversial than how Americans will cast their ballots. Amid the argument over vote by mail’s practicality or problems, an unlikely poster child has emerged: historically red Utah, which has been doing it for years. 

If conservative Utah can pull it off, it’s reasoned, maybe mailing ballots really isn’t “the greatest scam in the history of politics.”

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The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins recently interviewed Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and dug into the lessons Utah can teach the rest of the country. If a succinct summary of Cox’s comments can be made, it’s that vote by mail is efficient and safe — if planned for and executed well.

Granted, that’s a big “if.”

“We have seen very, very little fraud, and virtually no intentional fraud,” Cox told Coppins. “The reason for that is because we were very methodical and very careful about the way we started this.”

Perhaps the biggest hurdle in this year’s election, though, will be ensuring that first-time mail-in voters get their ballots in on time. The New York Times recently reported that in 35 states, “voters can request ballots so close to Election Day that it may not be feasible for their ballots to be mailed to them and sent back to election officials in time to be counted.”

Many states have compensated — perhaps overcompensated — for potential voter procrastination by scheduling ballot shipments well before the general election. North Carolina plans to send out ballots for the Nov. 3 election this Friday, Sept. 3. Alabama and Kentucky will follow soon after, on Sept. 9 and Sept. 16.

Utah’s path to vote-by-mail proficiency took years of careful planning and cautious implementation, starting in a select few municipalities and later rolling it out across the state. That process eventually resulted in an efficient statewide system used by most Utahns in elections. 

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Should states have to throw together a vote-by-mail system between now and November, though, things could get murky, Cox says. “I can also say some of those concerns (nationally) are valid, and if we had to set this up in a matter of a few weeks, that would be very difficult — and very difficult for people to swallow,” he told Coppins. “That’s why we were so cautious in the way we rolled it out.”

“Done correctly, it’s amazing. Done poorly, it can call into question even the potential validity of the election,” Cox remarked. And if voters complete and send their ballots sooner rather than later, “amazing” is much more likely.