Cushman: Vote-by-Mail Is Not a Partisan Issue


People casting their votes during the Midterm Elections 2018 at the Salt Lake County Building in Salt Lake City, UT on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


Utah is one of only five states where residents vote primarily by mail – a practice our Republican state leaders are proud of, but which the national GOP has openly denounced. With threats that the GOP will fight vote-by-mail — and other election proposals they disapprove of — with a $20 million legal fund, there is a significant chance that it will not be made available to many American voters, which could decrease voter turnout. It is wrong for the Republican party to denounce vote-by-mail, especially with the potential safety risk of voting in person during this election.

Public Health

Trump is a heavily divisive candidate, one that fires up Americans and brings them to the polls to vote both for and against him. Because this election has such a polarizing candidate at its center, political leaders will surely be vocal about encouraging us to vote. At the same time, we are also facing an unprecedented public health crisis. The spread of COVID-19 has led public health organizations to recommend that people stay home and avoid gathering in large groups. It seems contrary to ask Americans to minimize social contact on one hand and, on the other, ask them to vote without giving them a safe way to do so. Not allowing a vote-by-mail option forces Americans who want to vote to leave the safety of their homes, wait in long lines in facilities that have cycled hundreds of people through their doors and expose themselves to unnecessary risk. Our leaders are supposed to protect us, not force us to ignore public safety recommendations in order to engage with our government.

Even if polling locations took precautions to help protect voters, such as frequent cleaning of polling devices and having those in line maintain six feet of distance from others, it would still be dangerous to have so many people moving in and out of a building — and it would harm the feasibility of our elections. Voting is a time consuming process, with many Americans standing in line for hours to cast their ballots on election day. The process would only become longer and less doable for many voters if everyone had to vote in person and wait for polling devices to be sanitized and polling locations made as safe as possible. Providing a safer, easier option like voting by mail will ensure that American citizens are able to have an active role in their government — allowing them to vote without having to choose between their civic duty and their safety. Having a vote-by-mail option is vital to the health of our democracy and the health of our people.

Furthermore, there are many who do not take the risks of COVID-19 seriously. Psychologists say that it is because people do not understand how very real the risk is. A virus is very abstract — we cannot see the danger in the same way we can see other dangers. If we want people to take it seriously and slow the spread of this virus, we need the people in power to take it seriously. It is naïve to expect Americans to worry about COVID-19 if our own government is willing to flout public safety recommendations and ignore options that would make voting safer.

Voter Suppression

Attempting to stop vote-by-mail initiatives is, simply put, a Republican strategy to win the 2020 presidential election. Prohibiting vote-by-mail disenfranchises Americans in poverty who cannot afford to take work off to vote. It disenfranchises people with preexisting health issues who cannot risk being exposed to COVID-19. It disenfranchises minority Americans who are dying from COVID-19 at a much higher rate than white Americans and might be too afraid to go to the polls. In other words, it disenfranchises several groups of likely Democratic voters. It is heartbreaking that as thousands of Americans take to the streets in protest of the conditions of black people in this country, there are active efforts by the presidency and party in power to suppress their vote, and it is wrong that our president — and the GOP more broadly — would place political victory over the safety of the constituents he represents.

Voter suppression is undemocratic. It undermines the values our country is based on. Restricting vote-by-mail is wrong, especially in a pandemic, not only because it doesn’t align with who we are but because it poses a massive health risk to all of us. Allowing a safe and accessible voting method in presidential elections should not be a partisan issue. It’s a common sense choice to protect our values and our people.


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