For years now, US Sen. Ron Wyden has been beating the vote-by-mail drum, trying to get the entire country to adopt the system pioneered by Oregon back in 1998, which boosted turnout while keeping a lid on election-related costs.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, his moment may have finally arrived.
By November, when arguably the most consequential presidential election in a generation rolls around, there’s no guarantee it will be safe to queue up to vote. Voting by mail, as every Oregonian who has cracked open the Voters’ Pamphlet around the kitchen table knows, presents no such problems.
The ball is already rolling: In April and May, state after state first delayed their primaries, then switched them to mail-in-ballot affairs, including the all-important swing state of Ohio. A mid-April poll for NBC and the Wall Street Journal found that 67 percent of registered US voters endorsed moving to vote-by-mail in November.
Democrats in Congress, led by Wyden, seized on this momentum, proposing that states be required to allow mail voting in the fall, complete with prepaid postage and self-sealing envelopes; they earmarked $4 billion in aid to help smooth the transition.
Standing in their way are President Trump and many national Republicans, who fear that making the swap could increase Democratic turnout, to the GOP’s detriment. Trump’s rhetoric on the topic has been especially heated; he has repeatedly claimed that “a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting.” (This did not stop him from requesting a mail ballot for the Florida primary in March, nor has it stopped Republicans at the state level, in Iowa, New Hampshire, and elsewhere, from forging ahead with vote-by-mail expansion plans.)
Trump’s claims are false: Researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University have found that fraud rates associated with voting by mail are “infinitesimally small.” In Oregon alone, 100 million mail ballots have been sent out since 2000; there have been only about a dozen cases of fraud.
“Every day helps our cause,” says Wyden. "There is no question that some people have looked at vote-by-mail and have said, ‘Some of the people who are going to vote by mail aren’t going to vote for us, [so] we have reservations about it.’ How can that possibly be a good rationale [for not] giving people a convenient way to vote in the middle of a pandemic?”