Public health experts continue to warn Americans not to leave the house unnecessarily, and certainly not to pack into a polling place with many other people. Tuesday’s disastrous election in Wisconsin provides a peek at what happens when Republicans “fight very hard” against mail-in balloting, the way Mr. Trump suggested. Wisconsinites who could not get absentee ballots had to decide whether to venture out to vote in person or listen to the doctors and epidemiologists counseling them to do no such thing. Election workers failed to show up, leading to mass polling-location closures. People who decided to risk their health had to wait in lines for hours. Many others were deterred. Milwaukee was particularly hard-hit, no doubt to the satisfaction of the Republicans who engineered the fiasco: state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The likely upshot was to depress Democratic turnout in a state Supreme Court election.
Given the potential dangers of in-person voting, and the serious problems with online voting, a mass shift to mail-in voting is the most credible option during a time of social distancing. States such as Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and (deep-red) Utah conduct all of their elections by mail. Though no system is immune from fraud, they have not experienced major problems with illegal voting. Electoral fraud of all types is extremely rare across the nation.
About 30 additional states allow people to vote absentee for any reason. Mr. Trump admitted that he voted in last month’s Florida primary by mail. No doubt many more voters will request absentee ballots in the coming months, a move that states should encourage by sending out mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters. States will have to work out some kinks, ensuring they have enough ballots to dispatch and machines to process them when they return. Some polling locations must be kept open for people without fixed mailing addresses or with vision problems. Simple measures such as ballot tracking can combat absentee ballot fraud. Yet the president insisted Wednesday that only groups that happen to be Republican-leaning, such as senior citizens and military voters, should be allowed to vote by mail.
The only alternative appears to be the Wisconsin model — that is, chaos — or postponing elections. Neither is a legitimate option, particularly come November.