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  • On March 28, 2020,

  • the governor of New York announced that he was delaying his state's April election.

  • "I don't think it's wise to be bringing a lot of people to one location."

  • 18 other states had already delayed or modified their spring elections.

  • "It would endanger public health to allow thousands of people to assemble."

  • But the state of Wisconsin made a different call.

  • "The only state to move ahead with its election."

  • "Polls, if you can believe it, are open in Wisconsin this morning."

  • On April 7, voters in Wisconsin got in line, waited for hours,

  • standing 6 feet apart, wearing masks,

  • with some poll workers in full protective gear.

  • One voter made a sign that seemed to sum up the situation perfectly:

  • "People are calling it the photo of the year."

  • "Quote, This is ridiculous."

  • I was sitting with my cardboard in my lap, I was like, “this whole thing is just ridiculous.”

  • The people who were supposed to be making sure things are safe for us,

  • I felt like they kind of threw us under the wagon, you know?

  • The next day, the governor of New Jersey announced they were postponing their election too.

  • "I don't want a Wisconsin, where folks had to pick

  • between exercising their right to vote on the one hand, and protecting their own personal health."

  • Wisconsin's election highlights something that the US really needs to figure out soon.

  • In November, there's an election to decide the next president.

  • But it's highly unlikely that Covid-19 will be over and done with by then.

  • We might even be dealing with a second wave of it.

  • So, if public gatherings are a health risk,

  • how are you supposed to have an election?

  • I'm coming to you from the Roberts family voting booth, here at my dining room table.

  • This is Dave. He's at home in Seattle, Washington.

  • Dave's done a lot of reporting on what he says is a simple solution to how America can

  • vote during the pandemic.

  • Tens of millions of people in America vote by mail now, every election. And it's fine.

  • Washington is one of the few states that runs its entire election through the mail.

  • I think I've been voting by mail since I got to Washington in 2000.

  • Everyone who's done it loves it.

  • Voting by mail basically works by taking two important elements of voting:

  • Verifying your identity, and filling out the ballot --

  • And moving them from a polling place, to your home,

  • where the ballot gets mailed a few weeks before the election.

  • And that has two really obvious benefits. First:

  • You can take as much time as you want.

  • You have literally weeks to do as much research as you want.

  • So when you fill that circle, you're like,

  • I'm friggin' voting.

  • I'm capital-V voting right now.

  • And second: Voting by mail takes away a lot of the common reasons people don't vote.

  • Being forced to take a day off work,

  • find someone to watch your kids, or take your kids with you,

  • and go to a crowded balloting place,

  • hope that your name hasn't been struck from some roll for some random reason,

  • wait for hours, three hours, five hours, in line...

  • Voting by mail clears those hurdles. And the effects are really easy to see.

  • In 2018, a county in western Nebraska got permission from the state

  • to run their entire election by mail.

  • Every voter there got a mail-in ballot,

  • while voters in the rest of the state voted the old-fashioned way.

  • Across Nebraska, voter turnout was 24%. But in that one county, it was more than double that.

  • Turns out that making it easier to vote, means more people vote.

  • On average, states with all-mail voting systems have a higher turnout than other states.

  • A poll from April 2020 found that Americans would overwhelmingly be in favor

  • of holding the next presidential election entirely by mail.

  • But that still leaves a chunk who aren't sold on it.

  • One reason is fraud:

  • the possibility that your vote might be more likely to get lost, stolen or coerced,

  • if you vote at home.

  • So I asked an expert on voting by mail how serious and common a risk this is.

  • "It's exceedingly rare."

  • So I also asked someone who runs elections.

  • "No widespread or systematic voter fraud."

  • I asked a political scientist who's an expert on election data.

  • "It's highly unlikely anyone is going to steal your vote."

  • An election law expert...

  • "The concerns about voter fraud are way overhyped."

  • And an expert on voting rights.

  • "You are still more likely to be struck by lightning than to find mail ballot fraud."

  • The reason vote-by-mail fraud is rare is that even though, in theory, it's possible,

  • it's not very effective.

  • It helps to think in terms of "wholesale fraud" vs. "retail fraud."

  • Election security experts worry about wholesale fraud:

  • lots and lots of votes being tampered with at once.

  • So, if a bunch of people are voting on a machine, you just have to hack the one machine,

  • and you have access to thousands of votes.

  • Wholesale fraud, with one point of contact.

  • They're a lot less worried about what they call "retail fraud":

  • votes that get tampered with one at a time.

  • I mean, it is possible that someone could come by, and steal your ballot, fill it out,

  • sign your name to it, and mail it in.

  • And they thereby would have accomplished...

  • changing one vote.

  • But even if that does happen, vote-by-mail systems typically give you a way

  • to track your vote and make sure it's been counted.

  • "You can track your ballot like an Amazon package. It does not get much more secure than that."

  • "You can actually go on our system and track it,

  • from when they receive it, when they verify the signature, and when it's ready to count.

  • If they haven't returned that ballot, I guarantee you that the voter picks up the phone

  • and calls those election officials."

  • "The checks and balances that are in vote-by-mail...

  • In California, there are stronger and stricter guidelines on processing vote-by-mail

  • than there are on in-person voters.

  • To me, it's a much more secure process."

  • The same week that Wisconsin held its election, the state of Georgia sent all its voters forms

  • that would let them request a mail ballot.

  • But Georgia's Speaker of the House complained.

  • He said voting by mail benefits Democrats.

  • "This will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia."

  • But there's no evidence that voting by mail is better for either party.

  • A study at Stanford found that it doesn't get either party a bigger share of either

  • turnout or the vote itself.

  • All it does is increase the number of people who vote.

  • "We haven't seen any benefit to one party over another."

  • "There's nothing political about voting and more people voting is a good thing."

  • "Providing that all vote-by-mail experience didn't change those dynamics.

  • People were still voting the way they wanted to vote."

  • "I'm pretty sure I'm living proof that you can elect a Republican in a blue state,

  • and you can do it in a vote-by-mail environment."

  • Every state in the US already has some kind of vote-by-mail option:

  • It's called an absentee ballot.

  • But some states will only give you one if you have a good excuse,

  • like if you're out of town or in the military.

  • Other states offer a no-excuse absentee ballot, where you don't need to give a reason.

  • But you still have to request it.

  • Voting by mail is something every state already allows.

  • But very few states are actually prepared to do an entire election through the mail.

  • That's what caused the problem in Wisconsin.

  • In 2016, about 250,000 Wisconsin voters requested an absentee ballot.

  • In 2020, about five times that number requested absentee ballots.

  • Wisconsin hadn't prepared for that.

  • So a lot of people never got their ballots. And had to go vote in person instead.

  • I was one of over 55,000 people who had requested an absentee ballot who had not yet received it.

  • I am desperately hoping that we can make that an exclusive option,

  • if we're still dealing with unsafe situations in November.

  • It would not be that difficult to ramp that up in time for the election.

  • I mean, you'd need to start now. It's not trivial, but it's very doable.

  • In the five states that have all-mail voting, there's still an option to vote in person:

  • A backup, mostly for people who didn't get a ballot, or weren't registered to vote in time.

  • But in most, places voting by mail is the backup.

  • And if lots of voters feel that voting in person isn't safe, a backup won't be good enough.

  • Preparing election systems for that will take time. And right now, there is time.

  • But only if we start now.

On March 28, 2020,

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