President Trump could turn out to be the best frenemy mail-in voting ever had.
The president’s recent Twitter rant alleging that mail-in voting breeds voter fraud — and the social media giant’s efforts to set the record straight — has certainly upped the ante on one of the most critical issues facing this state and a host of others in the months leading up to the November election.
Trump’s tweet insisted that the mail-in ballots “would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of ballots.” Twitter responded by stamping the tweet with a message that urged followers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots” and included a link to a number of bullet points refuting Trump’s allegations. (That promptly led the president to issue a retaliatory executive order on Thursday.)
The relevant studies are many, of course. Among the most recent is one from the UCLA Voting Rights Project, published last month, which is actually a compilation of many studies done over the past several years.
“We conclude that vote-by-mail does not increase voter fraud and that necessary safeguards are well documented in states that routinely process millions of mail ballots without any voter fraud,” the authors wrote.
Last week — in response to the Trump tweet — former Republican governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and former Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm, of Michigan, cochairs of the newly formed VoteSafe, released a statement noting, “Absentee ballots are not new. One in four Americans already votes absentee, including the 2016 Presidential election.” They also reminded Trump that even he had cast an absentee ballot, in the most recent Florida primary.
The bipartisan group also made a pitch to all state election officials to “keep voters safe while protecting the integrity of our elections. Voters should not have to choose between their health and casting a ballot. Time is running out, however, for you to make necessary changes to avoid major problems in the November general election.”
Time is indeed running out — but not just for those states that have no form of secure vote-by-mail (that list has dwindled to a mere five, according to Massachusetts-based RepresentUs). It’s also running out here in Massachusetts.
And it certainly doesn’t help that, when asked if he supports sending ballots by mail to registered voters, Governor Charlie Baker replied, “I haven’t really spent any time thinking about it. . . . The elections are a long way away.”
Sure, the governor has plenty on his plate right now, but the safe and secure conduct of an election is no trivial matter. And it never hurts to use the bully pulpit of the governor’s office to move things along.
In fact, the Massachusetts primary is about the earliest it has ever been — Sept. 1. And that means Secretary of State Bill Galvin faces a July 18 federally imposed deadline for printing ballots going to the military and Massachusetts residents living abroad.
The bill reported out Friday night by the House and Senate chairs of the Election Laws Committee, Senator Barry Finegold and Representative John Lawn, would, for the first time, allow for seven days of early voting for the state’s primary — both in person and by mail. Similar proposals have come before the Legislature previously but have been stymied in the House. A pandemic, though, makes such overdue reforms literally a matter of life and death.
Early voting in the general election would be increased from the current four days to 18 days, including two weekends. But most importantly, the proposal would require Galvin to mail an application for a ballot to every registered voter by July 15 to request a mail-in ballot for both the primary and the general election. It’s a logical compromise between those who wanted actual ballots sent out to voters and those, like Galvin, who wanted to stick with the system in which voters actually had to request a ballot.
Lawn called the proposed system “common ground.”
“This bill is going to give people many options to feel safe while voting in the fall,” Finegold told State House News Service.
By providing additional early voting days it will also spread out the number of voters who show up at any given time in person.
The results of mail-in voting used in two recent special elections are encouraging. According to Galvin’s office, in the Plymouth and Barnstable district, mail-in votes accounted for 44.3 percent of votes cast (with Falmouth highest, at 59 percent). In the Hampden and Hampshire district, with a vacant seat to be filled, a third of the votes cast were cast by mail.
The issue here bears little resemblance to the fevered rantings coming from the White House. If anything perhaps Trump’s latest tirade provided extra incentive for lawmakers to reach a compromise that could move the bill along swiftly. House action could come as early as Wednesday.
One thing is certain: Complacency isn’t an option — and time indeed is running out.
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