By editorial board • 

Mail balloting is essental to free and fair elections

What if they held an election and everyone came?

That actually happened Tuesday night in Wisconsin, and it was a nightmare of no small proportion. If it triggers a surge in coronavirus cases, when seems entirely possible, it will become infinitely more so.

The solution seems obvious to Oregonians, who test-drove vote-by-mail in 1996 and made it a permanent fixture of the electoral landscape in 1998. Cast those ballots from the security of your own home, working on your own timetable, as you see fit.

The nation has been experiencing a growing trend toward voting individually and remotely in recent years, but it has been limited in large part to expanding and liberalizing the absentee voting option. Many barriers remain.

Just to get a ballot, some states require the voter to establish inability to participate in person. Six states further curb use by requiring the signature of a registered voter witness on every absentee ballot, and one, Alabama, requires that signature be notarized.

Only four states — Washington, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii — have gone all the way in following Oregon’s lead. Twenty-one others permit mail balloting on a selective basis, primarily for low-stakes local elections.

With a pandemic putting a premium on social distancing, we need to move much further much faster. We owe it to our way of living and governing to embrace an all-mail electoral future. The gold standard would be nationwide all-mail general election balloting in November.

Wisconsin showed the folly — amid a pandemic that has made highly contagious COVID-19 the leading cause of death in America — of forcing voters to stream to the polls like lemmings to the sea.

By the thousands, voters who requested absentee ballots failed to get them on time, if at all. And in urban centers like Milwaukee, voters had to spend hours working their way up massively long lines.

That was partly because 7,000 pollworkers refusing to show up, forcing authorities to call in the National Guard for assistance. But it’s hard to blame the pollworkers for putting their personal well-being and that of their families first.

Neither pollworkers nor voters should have been confronted with such an agonized choice between duty and personal safety.

Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden, a longtime champion of easing barriers to truly universal balloting, called it an outrage. And it was every bit of that.

Wyden has joined Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar in pushing to mandate mail balloting in periods of pandemic or natural disaster, and to allocate $400 million to help cover the cost.

Voter suppression is not an American value. But even as we see the public gravitating to mail-ballot voting, serving to extend the voting franchise more broadly, we see elected officials pushing back.

Could it be because low-turnout, high-barrier voting skews the electorate whiter, wealthier and more conservative, which may work to partisan advantage? There is certainly a strong correlation.

Vote-by-mail has long been The Oregon Way.

We need to make it The American Way. Our very lives might depend on it.


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