With unprecedented attention being placed upon this year’s presidential primaries, it also has brought unprecedented attention to the American election system. Because of that, a newly launched movement led by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to establish nationwide vote-by-mail deserves strong consideration.
“Across the country, there are stories of long lines, inexplicable purges of voter rolls, and new requirements that make it harder for citizens to vote,” Wyden said last week. “There is no excuse for accepting this state of affairs.”
Indeed. In Arizona, the March 22 primary led to thousands of would-be voters waiting up to five hours in line before getting the opportunity to cast a ballot. In Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, election officials had decided to reduce the number of polling locations by 70 percent when compared with the 2012 primary. “I made a giant mistake,” the head of elections there said in testimony before the Legislature.
A “mistake” might be acceptable if the incident were not being repeated throughout the nation. But disenfranchised voters have become a hallmark of the 2016 election season.
In New York, officials are investigating why 126,000 people were purged from the voting rolls prior to the primary — often without their knowledge. Polling locations also were shuttered, leading to long lines, and an election official in Brooklyn has been suspended. And in Rhode Island, only about one-third of polling locations were open for the primary.
In total, it is part of a national trend to make voting more difficult — a movement that flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution and the American ethos of all citizens having a voice. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 17 states have enacted voting restrictions since 2012, ranging from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions. Those changes have occurred mostly in the South and the Midwest, with Arizona being the only Western state to embrace the trend.
It is offensive to think that in 2016 people anywhere in the United States should have to wait in line for hours to cast a ballot. As New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer told PBS: “There is nothing more sacred in our nation than the right to vote, yet election after election, reports come in of people who were inexplicably purged from the rolls, told to vote at the wrong location, or unable to get in to their polling site.”
Wyden’s proposal would help alleviate some of those problems. Oregon adopted vote-by-mail for all elections in 2000, and since then several states have followed suit — including Washington.
The concern in some circles is that vote-by-mail invites voter fraud. Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman has said that such instances have been rare in this state, with the most notable coming when five members of the now-defunct ACORN organization were sentenced to jail time in 2007 for filing falsified voter registrations. Wyden notes that Oregon’s system protects against fraud through a signature authentication system, and that having ballots processed at a centralized location rather than at polling sites also provides security. In addition, vote-by-mail helps generate a more informed electorate, inspiring voters to spend more time and conduct more research before casting a ballot.
If America is to better live up to her ideals, vote-by-mail should be adopted on a national scale. A system in which voters wait in line for hours should be considered anathema to a government of the people.