John Hickenlooper, a geologist and small-business owner, is a former Democratic mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado. He is running for U.S. Senate.

The election chaos in Wisconsin on Tuesday sent a clear message: The nation can’t afford a repeat in November. Poll workers, many of them vulnerable senior citizens, and voters were forced to risk covid-19 infection to participate in American democracy, with scandalously long lines at the few polling places that were open in some areas. Gov. Tony Evers (D) had issued an executive order to reschedule the election, but Republicans fought against it and the state’s Supreme Court blocked it.

Republicans also attacked a sensible proposal by Evers to essentially turn the election into one conducted by mail, with absentee ballots sent to every registered voter. President Trump has lately chimed in with criticism that mail-in balloting is “horrible,” “corrupt” and invites “fraud.”

That hasn’t been our experience in Colorado. We’ve been voting from home for six years. As governor in 2013, I signed the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, a law supported by Democratic and Republican county clerks across Colorado. Here’s how it works: Every eligible Colorado voter receives a ballot in the mail roughly three weeks before Election Day, and after marking their choices from the comfort of their own home, voters mail the ballot back or deposit it at one of the hundreds of drop-off locations around the state (and put on their “I Voted” sticker). We also make it possible for voters to register through Election Day, and to vote in person.

Denver city and county voters even have the ability to track the status of their ballots, with email or text notifications, as they travel through the postal system. The “Ballot TRACE” software ensures that every mailed ballot is accounted for.

We’re not alone. Oregon has conducted its elections, including the presidential contest, exclusively by mail for two decades. Washington, like Colorado, strongly encourages mail-in ballots for every election but also allows for in-person voting. Many other states permit mail-in voting for some of their elections.

These states’ experience with voting from home has laid the groundwork for just this moment, when mail-in voting in a national election could be vital to protecting Americans’ health — and the health of our democracy.

Democratic Party lawyer Marc Elias says states and Congress need to act now to ensure all votes count during the general election. These changes are overdue. (The Washington Post)

As for concerns about the security of voting by mail, states that use it have implemented plenty of safeguards. In Colorado, election officials conduct rigorous risk-limiting audits after elections. They also use a centralized database to compare signatures in the voter file with those on ballot envelopes and track ballot returns to keep an eye out for any possible irregularities. And, of course, one advantage of using mailed ballots is that paper can’t be hacked.

Mailing ballots has upsides beyond the obvious convenience. Since we started mailing ballots to every eligible voter in Colorado, voter turnout in the state has increased 3.3 percent, putting our state’s voting rate among the highest in the country. We’ve also saved about $6 per voter in reduced printing, labor and other costs, making it less expensive for county clerks to administer elections.

We’ve seen particularly striking results among low-propensity and younger voters who previously did not vote regularly. In the first year we started mailing out ballots, turnout for unlikely voters went up by 20 percent — because they now had a ballot at their fingertips. In the 2016 election, 93 percent of Colorado voters chose to mail in their ballots.

Universal vote-at-home reform was a matter of common sense even before the covid-19 pandemic upended the nation, but now it is an urgent necessity. Making it happen in time for the November elections will be a gigantic undertaking, and there is no time to waste. An immediate need: bolstering an ailing U.S. Postal Service so it will be prepared for the surge of ballots.

Logistical concerns can be resolved if preparation starts now. With one of the most important elections in our lifetimes on the horizon, simply hoping for the best and taking a business-as-usual approach invites the sort of mess that marred the vote in Wisconsin. The nation’s democracy would be truly endangered by a similarly chaotic presidential election. Colorado and other states have proved that vote-at-home reforms work. They’re ready for a national rollout.

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