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Bill Straub: A very good case can be made for mail-in ballots, but not everyone wants more turnout

When he hasn’t been fulminating over governmental overreach in addressing the coronavirus crisis or gnashing his teeth into dust over the pending economic recovery package, Rep. Thomas Massie has been using his copious free time to warn against the potential “end of our republic as we know it.

And that menace on the cusp of achieving what the likes of Jefferson Davis and the Axis powers dreamed of but failed to accomplish in the past?

Universal vote by mail.

That’s right. A system aimed at making it easier for all eligible Americans to exercise their franchise, in the view of Wonder Boy Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, forms the compass that will lead this nation down the road to perdition

Just what it is about mail voting that’s got our guy Massie so exorcised that he momentarily stopped fondling one of his AK-47s to write a tweet about it isn’t clear. He did cite another congressman, one Rep. Warren Davidson, R-OH, whose district can be found just north of Cincinnati, who claimed such matters are better left to the states and that mail-in ballots are “easy targets for ballot harvesting,” defined by the San Diego Union-Tribune as “a practice in which organized workers or volunteers collect absentee ballots from certain voters and drop them off at a polling place or election office.”

It should be noted that ballot harvesting is a perfectly legal procedure that assures those who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day can still have their voices heard. And everyone is aware of the crackerjack job some states have historically performed regarding voting rights, Mississippi during the Civil Rights era being a prime example.

As things currently sit, 20 states allow voters to utilize absentee ballots as long as they offer a reasonable rationale for wanting to do so. Six states, along with the District of Columbia, permit voters to apply for what is called permanent absentee status, letting them mail in their ballots whenever they so desire. Three states – Oregon, Washington, and Colorado — conduct elections completely by mail.

And Nevada announced Wednesday that its primary election, slated for June 9, will proceed as planned using mail-in ballots.

As far as anyone can tell, none of those spots have broken off from the continental United States and can be found drifting at sea, leading to questions about how such a process would “end our republic as we know it.”

The issue of mail voting came up recently as a way to guarantee the national election will take place as planned on Nov. 3 despite the coronavirus threat. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, who has abandoned her campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, has introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, which would establish 20 days for early voting in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, require that mail-in ballots submitted 21 days leading to an election be counted and provide voters with the option to use absentee ballots.

Democrats reportedly sought to include mail-in language in the $2 trillion stimulus package that is still making the rounds, noting that several states, including Kentucky, were forced to postpone their primary elections because of the coronavirus pandemic, decisions that likely wouldn’t have proved necessary if the states had the mail-in ballot option.

Frankly, it’s rather hard coming up with a rationale to oppose mail-in voting. By all measures, it works well in the three states that have implemented the system and it would almost certainly increase nationwide voter participation, which generally is viewed as a worthy goal. There’s no reason to believe mail-in ballots will increase opportunities for fraud and regardless, one of these days voters will be spending the first Tuesday in November by sitting behind their laptops, making a few clicks here and there and then sending a completed ballot in to the local courthouse.

It’s inevitable, yet Massie and others are standing in the way of progress.

The only viable rationale is politics. Republicans like Massie fear the switch to mail-in ballots will increase turn-out and work in the favor of Democrats. Most groups that find their franchise suppressed today – African-Americans and Latinos in particular – form a strong Democratic constituency. Should their votes ever be counted any number of GOP held seats could be placed in jeopardy.

That’s why, over the past few years, Republicans have actively engaged in a wide-ranging voter suppression effort. The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to the enterprise with its 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which determined that those states required under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to receive pre-clearance from the federal government before changing their election laws, mostly because of discriminatory practices, no longer had to do so.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

Some states, like Alabama, imposed laws requiring voters to present a photo-ID before they could cast a ballot. Georgia enacted what is called a “use it or lose it” law, which strikes voters from registration rolls if they have not participated in an election within a prescribed period of time.

In 2018, Florida voters passed a ballot initiative restoring voting rights to more than one million convicted felons. But statehouse Republicans, led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, stepped in and adopted a law requiring those felons to settle court-imposed fines before they can get reinstated. A federal appeals court has since lifted that mandate.

In North Carolina, a federal appeals court in 2016 struck down a law restricting early voting and imposing strict voter ID-requirements. The panel called it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.” Subsequent attempts to require a photo-ID before voting have also been kicked back by the courts.

Not to be outdone, the Kentucky General Assembly this session passed and sent to Gov. Andy Beshear Senate Bill 2, which would require prospective voters to show a government-issued identification with their photograph.

As usual in these instances, Republicans have trotted out the old saw about preventing fraud, although no one has yet to present any evidence that such exists. What’s likely to happen is voters will find it difficult to obtain these photo IDs and pass up the opportunity to vote – the objective of the exercise in the first place.

These, of course, aren’t the only examples of voter suppression.

Anecdotally, there are always stories about long lines waiting to vote in African-American precincts on Election Day because the number of voting places is insufficient. People are too often turned away for no reason or have to travel substantial distances to cast their vote.

Those problems could all be solved through mail-in ballots. But that would destroy Massie’s – and the GOP’s – real purpose, wouldn’t it?

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One Comment

  1. Penny Gaffney says:

    One thing that can be said about Straub – he is consistent. Because I am open to the idea of expanding voting by mail, or was, I read his entire article this week. It was painful, but I got through it. Having criticized him last week I felt obligated to at least check to see if he had anything constructive to offer. As usual he didn’t. Oh well, it was just a few minutes wasted that I’ll never get back, but I learned my lesson. I won’t be back to criticize what I won’t bother to read in the future.

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