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Posts published in “Day: April 10, 2020”

The voter lining

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Silver linings can be hard to find in a time of pandemic, isolation, economic collapse, sickness and death.

But there are a few. The price of Covid-19 may be higher than any benefit we might see as a result, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grab the benefits where they do happen.

One of those in Idaho arrived on the first day of this month when, after considering other options such as delaying the May primary election, Governor Brad Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney chose a better option, from which more good things may flow.

From the secretary of state’s office: “Idahoans will vote in the May primary exclusively from home using absentee ballots. If you want to vote in the election, you will need to request your ballot online at Idahovotes.gov or contact your local county clerk.”

Conducting the May primary election in the normal manner didn’t look like a good idea. We could all watch the news on Tuesday from Wisconsin to see why: People forced to choose whether to vote, as they should have the clear right to safely do, or to risk catching a highly contagious and potentially fatal illness. What happened there was a scandal to say the least, one no state should want to repeat.

Idaho won’t, because its voters will be casting ballots by mail.

As of now, five states - Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah - vote exclusively that way. That means voters receive their ballots in the mail, and after filling them out return them either by mail or at a drop box. They make their choices at their leisure at home or elsewhere. Generally, if the voter chooses, a vote could also be cast at a county courthouse or other specified places. But polling places have, in these states, generally faded into the past. And voters have more time to think about, even research, their choices.

A number of things theoretically could go wrong with this system where it’s been used, but remarkably few have. In Oregon, which has used mail-in voting almost exclusively for about a quarter-century, it’s not at all controversial and almost completely trouble-free. There’s not been any significant opposition to it, by either party, since it got underway.

President Donald Trump isn’t a fan. In an April 20 tweet he said, “Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

The fraud argument is, well, fraudulent, since the history of the approach is so clean. So he’s saying that getting people out to vote - something public officials (including Idaho’s Republican secretaries of state for generations) have championed - is a bad thing because his own party doesn’t benefit? And if it doesn’t, what does that say about his own party’s legitimacy? Not that his political analysis is necessarily valid; Utah is a mail state, and Republicans do just fine there, as they have and likely would in Idaho.

The Trump comment came, of course, after he voted in 2018 by mail, and likely will again this year. As another tweeter said, “This isn't about voter fraud. It is more difficult to cheat on an election with mail-in voting. This is about voter suppression.” 

The Little-Denney decision to go mail will get a tryout in Idaho at the May primary. There are some speed bumps. Some supplies, such as the needed mail envelopes, are in short supply, and some county clerks have indicated concerns about switching gears so abruptly. That’s an actual problem; mostly, election procedures in Idaho as in most states are locked in far in advance, not changed within weeks of the event.

But those problems shouldn’t be fatal. And what the process probably will show is that mail-in voting works well, and many Idahoans probably will like the convenience of it better than the polling station approach. At least to judge by its reception from voters in other states that have tried it.