Oregon has proven vote-by-mail works, and the GOP is terrified
Republicans forced Wisconsin voters earlier this month to make the Sophie's Choice of the decade: People could risk exposing themselves to the most virulent pandemic the globe has seen in 100 years, or they could forfeit their right to vote. With 11th-hour machinations by Wisconsin GOP lawmakers, a right-wing judge, and a 5-4 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court handed down by all five Republican-appointed Justices, Republicans told Wisconsinites: "Good luck with that!"
What was it the GOP found more offensive than risking the lives of the very people they serve?
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had proposed a delay of the Wisconsin primary, and worked to expand and extend absentee voting so his constituents could cast their ballots safely by mail. He sought to protect his citizens from COVID-19 while allowing them to participate in the democratic process.
The GOP successfully thwarted his effort, and the visuals from the Wisconsin election were stunning. Voters cued up, separating themselves from one another in long-winding lines. They waited for hours in miserable weather to cast their votes, and while many were masked, they risked sickness to vote. What we did not see were the thousands of Wisconsinites who stayed home, choosing instead to protect themselves and their families.
National Republicans, fortified by their "victory" in Wisconsin, are taking their fight nationwide by attacking vote-by-mail. And if they have it their way, Americans across the country will face the same impossible, unfair choice this November as voters in Wisconsin did.
Here's the truth: Oregon has been voting exclusively by mail for more than two decades, and democracy in our state isn't just doing fine — it's thriving.
Vote-by-mail has increased accessibility to the ballot; it's given more Oregonians the ability to participate in our democracy, and it's a safe, commonsense way to conduct an election — especially during this awful pandemic.
In 1996, our last presidential election without vote-by-mail, just over 71% of Oregonians turned out. Four years later, after receiving their ballots in the mail, more than 79% voted. In the 20 years since, that figure hasn't fallen below 80%, dramatically outpacing national turnout.
Voting by mail is also more secure. Voter signatures are rigorously checked, and every election has an auditable paper trail. As former Oregon Republican Secretary of State Dennis Richardson put it: "You can't hack paper."
Our vote-by-mail system is strong, successful and secure. The GOP opposes vote-by-mail because they worry that higher turnouts favor Democrats. Their efforts in Wisconsin reveal the extremes by which they will suppress citizens' right to vote.
It doesn't have to be like this. Oregon has a history of bipartisan support for vote-by-mail. Former Republican Secretary of State Norma Paulus was one of the first champions for the cause. In 1998, Oregon voters approved the move to vote-by-mail by 69%. Plenty of GOP voters have seen for themselves the benefits and sensibility of vote-by-mail.
Trump and the GOP are pushing hard against expanding vote-by-mail because the Trump presidency is in jeopardy. Even before his ineffective, muddled and deadly response to the COVID-19 crisis, voters had tired of his broken promises. Americans are terrified by a pandemic that has illuminated the sheer incompetence of a president who values his polling numbers and ratings above all else.
Republican operatives were already concerned how to spin Trump's failed record, but they know they cannot spin the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. Their best hope lies in keeping voters quiet, by suppressing the vote and by forcing voters to make a terrible choice between their own health and the health of our democracy.
It's on us to keep that from happening. In Oregon and across the country, Democrats are fighting to ensure that every American has a say in the most consequential election of our generation.
The cost of this pandemic will be horrifically high, but it doesn't have to strip us of our vote. Oregonians have been voting by mail for 20 years. It's time to offer every American a chance to do the same.
The Oregon Primary will be held safely on schedule — by mail — on May 19, 2020.
KC Hanson is chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Oregon.
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