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It’s no secret: The United States has a serious problem with voter turnout. About 56 percent of voting-age citizens cast a ballot in 2016. We trail far behind the rest of the developed world in this regard, even though 70 percent of Americans believe high voter turnout in presidential elections is important. While we act like low turnout signals electoral apathy, the fact is that the in-person voting system is deeply flawed. The coronavirus outbreak will only serve to exacerbate these shortcomings. It’s become increasingly clear that the only way to secure universal voting rights is to fund the post office and allow universal voting by mail.
Americans want to vote, but in-person balloting has proven to be a failure during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the June Kentucky primary, voters were left in an impossible situation, with unbearable, hours-long waits due to the normal total of 3,700 polling locations being slashed to 170, not so accidentally impacting minority neighborhoods the most. Wisconsin’s primary mirrored this crisis, with the state Supreme Court refusing to extend the deadline for absentee balloting in April, the height of the pandemic. It’s not just speculation — if people are forced to go to the polls this November, a disaster awaits.
Mail-in balloting is the only way to secure our democracy’s most important function. Claims that mail-in balloting risks voter fraud are baseless and purely motivated by partisan politics. In fact, President Donald J. Trump’s own election commission, which he created to look into his allegations of voter fraud, said that in 2016, when 24 percent of all ballots were submitted by mail, “election officials across the country administered fair and accurate elections,”according to Election Assistance Commission Chairman Matthew Masterson.
The notion that mail-in balloting is a “Democratic power grab” is equally ridiculous, although the very idea that the will of the people should be suppressed if disapproved by President Trump’s politics is alarming. One of the largest demographics that takes advantage of mail-in voting is the elderly, who tend to skew Republican. Voters 65 and over broke for Trump by 9 percentage points in 2016, explaining why Trump claims that voting by mail is only acceptable in Florida, a crucial swing state somewhat favorable to Republicans. The white retirees of Florida can vote by mail securely, but minorities living in areas with virtually no polling places cannot. Right.
Voting by mail offers the perfect solution to low voter turnout in elections far beyond this one. While some who lament our weak political participation say we should make Election Day a national holiday, such sentiment ignores something that should be obvious in this new COVID-19 world: the people who we consider essential right now? They still work on holidays too. Therefore, those who do not have the luxury of taking Election Day off would likely still find themselves unable to vote.
The assertions that the United States Postal Service is not equipped to handle an increase in mail, currently all the rage in right wing media, are also flawed, and they originate from the very people who are currently working to cripple the USPS’s power to handle mail.
It couldn’t be U.S. Postmaster General Louis Dejoy taking 10 percent of mail sorting machines offline, banning extra trips by postal carriers and overtime and implementing widespread service reductions that could cause delays, right? It couldn’t be the president openly admitting he opposes funding this supposedly incompetent Postal Service because he wants to stop mail in voting, could it? No, it must be out of genuine concern for the USPS, the agency that delivers 472.1 million mail pieces a day and holds a 91 percent favorability rating with the American people, the highest of all federal agencies. The GOP is intentionally ignoring the causal relationship between this sabotage and USPS warnings about delays, and hoping it can be pinned on USPS. The attack on the post office is rooted entirely in bad faith, and Americans should see right through it.
The Postal Service, yes, does not turn a profit, but it’s not meant to. It’s intended to work for every American, rural, urban, suburban, no matter where they live, even if it’s not profitable to do so. The USPS has served the American people for decades, and it will this November — if we allow it.
Noah Colbert is a first-year mathematics major. He can be reached at [email protected].