The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s attack on vote-by-mail is an attack on democracy

Yolanda Jimenez casts her mail-in ballot in at the voting center at the California Museum Nov. 5, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif.
Yolanda Jimenez casts her mail-in ballot in at the voting center at the California Museum Nov. 5, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

“REPUBLICANS SHOULD fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting,” President Trump tweeted on Wednesday. Mail-in voting, he explained, “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” The relevant question, though, is not whether mail-in voting would “work out” for Republicans, but whether it would work out for American democracy during the coronavirus crisis. If Mr. Trump has a better alternative, he should present it.

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.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

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.

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The only alternative appears to be the Wisconsin model — that is, chaos — or postponing elections. Neither is a legitimate option, particularly come November.

Read more:

Richard L. Hasen: Trump is wrong about the dangers of absentee ballots

Alexandra Petri: The difference between absentee ballots and voting by mail

John Hickenlooper: We’ve been voting at home for six years in my state. It’s time to do it nationally.

Marc Elias: The virus means we’ll be voting by mail. But that won’t be easy.

David Becker: Mail-in ballots to avoid coronavirus? Yes, but here’s how to minimize chaos and unfairness.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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