Why We Need Universal Vote-by-Mail, Now

Watching the election in Wisconsin this past Tuesday was like watching a slow moving train wreck.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court issued two separate rulings effectively forcing Wisconsin to move forward with in-person voting this past Tuesday and preventing people from voting absentee. These dangerous decisions — forcing people to choose between their vote and their health — reflects a dangerous trend toward disenfranchising people.

Just as tragic, allowing people to vote has become a partisan issue, with the Republican Party — here the Republican leadership in the Wisconsin Legislature and the Republican-controlled courts — leading the charge to make it hard and even dangerous for people to vote.

Let me be clear: people will get sick because of this partisan decision to force Tuesday’s election. Right now, as we try to flatten the curve and slow COVID-19 infections to give hospitals more capacity to effectively treat patients, social distancing is the best way to keep infection and mortality rates low.

It is reckless and dangerous to force people to vote in a way that puts them, their families and the population in general at great risk. Voting is the most basic right in a democracy, and should be safe and accessible for all.

These decisions were made with full knowledge of the significant increase in infections that in-person voting, in all likelihood, will cause.

Why are some Republicans fighting so hard to make sure people can’t vote by mail?

Sadly, the answer is simple. When it’s easier to vote, and when more people vote, Republicans do worse. Trump himself has admitted this, saying “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again” if we expand vote-by-mail and other early voting measures.

We can’t let this anti-democratic, partisan effort keep people from voting safely. Luckily, in California, we have strong leaders in Governor Gavin Newsom and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who will no doubt make the right choice regarding California’s fall election. That being said, we need to change the way we do our elections in other states — and on a national level — to stop forcing people to put themselves in danger by voting in person.

We need to fight for universal vote-by-mail on the national and state levels.

Every registered voter in this country — whether they request a ballot or not — should be mailed a ballot so they can vote at home. States like Oregon already employ this voting model and have seen increased voter turn-out. When you make it easier for people to vote, more people vote — unequivocally a good thing. And given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more crucial to implement universal vote-by-mail.

In California, you can vote by mail right now if you request a ballot in advance of the election. In the March 2020 primary, around 75% of people received ballots in the mail. Governor Newsom has already issued an executive order to make upcoming special elections in California fully vote-by-mail. We need to extend universal vote-by-mail to the November election, whether by legislation or executive order. It’s a matter of public health and protecting our democracy.

My guess is that we will likely see blue states make moves towards vote-by-mail elections in the fall. I hope red states and purple states will do the same. I encourage residents of those states to reach out to their elected officials and advocate for this change. Show them the data of what we’re likely to see happen to Wisconsin’s infection rate in the coming weeks.

Nationally, I’d like to see Congress push for these changes in the next COVID-19 relief package, though I know that it’s tough with a Republican-controlled Senate. We must all work hard to get this done.

Let’s keep working toward a stronger Democracy and a healthier community.

CA State Senator. Urbanist. Environmentalist. Advocate for transit, housing, clean energy, criminal justice reform, health, ending poverty. Democrat. 🏳️‍🌈

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