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Former First Lady Michelle Obama is throwing her full support behind vote-by-mail options, including Democratic legislation that seeks to expand access to mail-in voting and early voting during the deadly coronavirus outbreak. Obama’s support comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s continued opposition to the practice that he himself has taken advantage of.
“Americans should never have to choose between making their voices heard and keeping themselves and their families safe. We know that barriers to voting existed before the crisis, especially for young people and communities of color,” Obama said in a statement released by When We All Vote, a nonpartisan organization that aims to boost voter registration. Obama serves as the organization’s co-chair.
“Expanding access to vote-by-mail, online voter registration and early voting are critical steps for this moment— and they’re long overdue,” the former first lady continued. “There is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country; making the democracy we all cherish more accessible; and protecting our neighbors, friends and loved ones as they participate in this cornerstone of American life.”
When We All Vote said that vote-by-mail would be the only safe and secure options for Americans during the coronavirus outbreak. “Vote-by-mail would allow eligible voters to cast and return their ballots from the safety and convenience of their home,” the statement noted.
The organization also called for an expansion of early in-person voting so as to allow eligible voters to cast their ballots while avoiding interactions with large groups and adhering to social distancing protocols. When We All Vote called on states to adopt “vote anywhere rules” that would allow voters to cast their ballots at any polling location and potentially reduce lines at specific polling locations.
In Wisconsin’s recent primary, thousands of voters were forced to wait hours to cast their ballots when social distancing is required to stop the spread of COVID-19, which is caused by the novel coronavirus. The scene was exasperated when local officials were unable to keep up with mail-in ballot requests and processing, Politico reported. The conservative-led Supreme Court then blocked all attempts to extend voting deadlines or to lessen absentee ballot requirements, thus forcing Wisconsin voters to put their lives at risk to vote in person during a pandemic.
Trump and Republican Party At Odds Over Vote-By-Mail
Unlike Obama, President Trump has been pushing the narrative that vote-by-mail is “corrupt” and leads to voter fraud.
On April 7, Trump repeatedly attacked vote-by-mail efforts, saying, “mail-in voting is horrible.” The president, who himself voted by mail in Florida’s primary in March, implied that voting by mail led to voter fraud. “There’s a lot of dishonesty going along with mail-in voting, mail-in ballots,” Trump claimed, with zero evidence.
The president’s attacks on mail-in voting practices are at odds with his party’s own track record of promoting vote-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic and in the past. According to The Washington Post, the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has encouraged voters to apply for a mail-in ballot to avoid spreading the virus.
“Voting by mail is an easy, convenient and secure way to cast your ballot,” a Republican National Committee mailer sent to voters in Pennsylvania said. “Return the attacked official Republican Party mail-in ballot application to avoid lines and protect yourself from large crowds on Election Day.”
Republican officeholders in at least 16 other states have also encouraged voters to cast absentee ballots during the pandemic, The Washington Post reported. However, the GOP has also discouraged vote-by-mail and other practices to increase voter turnout in order to benefit politically.
States That Already Vote-By-Mail
There are five states that are 100 percent vote-by-mail elections: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. In these states, ballots are mailed to voters weeks ahead of Election Day, giving voters an “election period” to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Although all registered voters receive a ballot by mail in those states, they are still allowed to vote in-person on Election Day. For example, registered voters in Hawaii receive their ballots packets about three weeks before the election and they then must fill the ballot out, sign it and return it to their Clerk’s Office by mail or in-person.
Expanding the use of mail-in-voting has shown to drive up voter participation. According to a 2018 analysis by The Washington Post, turnout rates in Colorado, Oregon and Washington increased after those states adopted mail-in-voting and are now among the highest in the country.
Wisconsin has been the most recent state to vote during the pandemic, but a number of primaries still remain. Some states are still allowing voters to request a mail-in-ballot but restrictions apply. To learn how to vote absentee during the pandemic, visit The North Star’s story here.
How to Support
When We All Vote has encouraged Americans to advocate voter registration, early voting and vote-by-mail and to take a pledge to “fight for safe and fair elections.” The organization also urges people to contact their federal legislators to voice their support for expanding access to vote-by-mail.
In its statement, When We All Vote said it supported the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020. The bill, which was introduced on March 13 by Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), would expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states.
The legislation also includes $500 million in federal funds to help states with the additional costs in administering elections during the pandemic, CNN reported.
Obama hosted an online voter registration “couch party” in March that involved more than 10,000 volunteers, who texted more than 400,000 eligible voters. When We All Vote will host its second virtual #CouchParty2.0 on April 20th to register more eligible voters.
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About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.