Home News Opinion | Voting by Mail Could Save Lives and American Democracy

Opinion | Voting by Mail Could Save Lives and American Democracy

Republicans may be thinking about numbers like these when they rail against mail voting. But the turnout increases from mail voting don’t appear to change the results.

The real reason to make mail voting widely accessible isn’t to help one party or another — it’s to help the American people participate in their own democracy as fully as possible. That’s why voters of both parties like it so much, which may be the best evidence of all that it has no built-in partisan bias.

Second, public officials must educate voters.

In 2016, nearly one in four voters cast their ballots by mail. Still, voting by mail remains a novelty for most Americans, who are used to walking into their polling place on Election Day, registering their vote and handing their ballot to another human being — or at least feeding it into a scanner. It’s understandable that people would be wary of or confused by a new method.

That’s why public-education efforts will be critical over the next few months. State and local officials need to explain, in clear and simple terms, when and how to request an absentee ballot and how to fill one out, sign it and send it back. This will make the process more secure and also reduce the number of ballots rejected because they weren’t properly filled out or signed. When ballots are rejected, states must give voters a fair opportunity to fix any errors.

Of course, all the education in the world won’t help if ballots are rejected or uncounted through no fault of the voter — say, because mail backups delay their arrival. By one estimate, as many as 4 percent of all mail ballots went uncounted in 2016. At a minimum, states that don’t already accept ballots that arrive after Election Day must update their election laws and rules to do so. Whether they allow for a week or 10 days, the window needs to be long enough to account for delays in mail handling and postmark mix-ups that led to the dumping of so many absentee ballots in New York’s primary. (The postmaster general, a Trump donor named Louis DeJoy, is making matters worse by slashing overtime and slowing the delivery of regular mail. Perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Trump has started insisting that a winner be called on election night itself, and not a moment later.)

The crush on the Postal Service will be real, and it can be eased by providing more places for voters to drop off their ballots in person — like dedicated drop boxes, which are popular in Colorado.

The pressure on election workers to process all those extra mail ballots can be alleviated by hiring more of them, paying them a decent wage and, critically, reminding voters not to get antsy when final results aren’t immediately clear. Counting absentee ballots can take time. That’s not fraud.

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