Democrats Must Prioritize Voting by Mail Now

Voting by mail has never been more popular or plausible in the United States. More than 66 percent of Americans currently approve of mail-in ballots in 2020, and 58 percent want election rules changed for good. Vote by mail efforts are underway in several states, and some have already ruled in favor of them.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have advocated for a federal vote by mail mandate and have rallied celebrities to their cause. However, they’ve faced stark opposition from the Trump administration and Senate Republicans and have yet to get it into relief legislation.

But the time for tiptoeing around the issue is over. Democrats need to get voting by mail into the next coronavirus relief bill, no matter what it takes.

Forget overwhelming public support for voting by mail, which is enough reason to push the issue on its own. Keeping people away from the polls is a public safety issue. States that held primaries saw COVID-19 infection rates spike days after in-person ballots were cast. Hopefully the crisis will have abated by November and social distancing rules will be relaxed. But the pandemic’s unpredictability makes that a dangerous assumption.

Voting by mail will also likely increase voter turnout. Conventional wisdom says this favors Democrats, who tend to perform better when more people vote. Republicans know this (and have acknowledged it publicly) which is why they’re fighting hard against voting by mail. Trump and others have relied on voter fraud, the go-to conservative argument against electoral reform. But states like Hawaii and Alaska have been voting primarily by mail for years and each have single digit cases. There’s no good non-partisan argument against voting by mail, and that’s something Congressional Democrats need to emphasize.

The question of whether Dems will play hardball remains open, though. They’ve appeared more than willing to acquiesce Republicans’ coronavirus relief bill demands while rolling over on their own; the only real standoff was over unemployment benefits in the first bill nearly two months ago. Now is the time for Democrats to govern using the anger and frustration of working class people being screwed over during the COVID-19 crisis and hold Senate Republicans’ feet to the fire. There’s just no evidence they’re willing to do anything of the sort.

But voting by mail might be the issue to rouse Democrats out of their governing slumber. The Democratic Party is completely self-interested and only seems to act when threatened—it’s why they didn’t try impeaching Trump until he went after their presumed presidential frontrunner. The DNC also openly advocated for in-person voting during the pandemic when it suited the party’s purpose of finishing off Bernie Sanders. Still, mail-in voting gives Democrats a clear electoral advantage in 2020 and potentially beyond; if they’re not willing to fight for that, they might not be willing to fight for anything.

Global crises like COVID-19 tend to bring about major shifts in the way we collectively think. There’s a good chance we’ll never look at going to the grocery store or shaking a new acquaintence’s hand the same way ever again. Healthcare will be rethought if not wholly reformed, and the definition of “essential worker” will likely shift. And hopefully we’ll look back and wonder why we ever bothered waiting in hours-long polling lines instead of just mailing in our ballots.