The November general election, with crucial decisions from the presidency to local tax proposals, must go on this year, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic.
Washington and Oregon are providing leadership on this front. Their proven model of voting by mail is one other states can and should follow.
Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden made a smart proposal this week to inoculate the 2020 primaries and general election against disruptions and quarantines related to the virus.
If at least 25 states declare emergencies related to COVID-19, registered voters in all states would be allowed to request an absentee ballot or the state could require all voters to cast ballots entirely by mail, under Wyden’s Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, is a co-sponsor of a companion House version introduced by Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland.
Other members of Washington’s Congressional delegation — who know firsthand the benefits of mail voting — should support this timely and critical effort. Helping people stay safe while exercising their right to vote is a no-brainer.
Under the act, voters in all states not only would have the ability to make electronic requests for absentee ballots, they could also receive them electronically, to print at home and return by mail. That approach is currently offered to overseas and military voters.
States would be required to offer postage paid, self-sealing envelopes to absentee voters to reduce infection risks for those handling ballots. The act would provide $500 million to help states pay for the postage and scanners needed to process the ballots.
The act would also require state and local governments to publish, within 30 days, plans for how to operate elections in the event large numbers of voters or poll workers are subject to self-quarantines or mandatory quarantines. Such planning should be happening everywhere, regardless of the act.
Giving voters the option to vote by mail has been shown to be safe, efficient and convenient. Oregon voters authorized the first statewide, all-mail approach in 1998. Washington followed suit in 2011. Early concerns about ballot fraud have not materialized.
During a time of great disruption, flexibility and creativity are needed, along with measures to maintain government stability and progress.
Making elections resilient, by providing mail ballots and other options to voters, is an easy and straightforward part of the broader response by Congress. Get it done.