America is confronting an unprecedented “trifecta” that is dominating our daily headlines: A COVID-19 pandemic, a deep recession and most recently the murder of an unarmed black man by law enforcement, illustrative of systemic racism and injustice that has spawned a season of multiracial protests and calls for needed social change. Yet, while the nation is reeling from these crises, duplicitous messaging is being deployed by the occupant of the Oval Office to actively undermine the results of this November’s election: that voting by mail can’t be trusted, that widespread voter fraud exists, and that mail balloting is designed specifically to elect his opponent: FALSE.
Since 2000, more than 250 million votes have been cast via mailed ballots, in all 50 states, according to the Vote at Home Institute with only a handful of fraudulent votes cast. Election law expert and U.C. Irvine professor Richard L. Hasen notes, it is still more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than to commit mail-voting fraud. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that voting by mail benefits any particular political party.
San Mateo County has shown that voting-by-mail works. My legislation to make San Mateo County an all-mail ballot pilot county demonstrated that the participating electorate more closely resembles the public at large in terms of its diversity and representation, with young people, and voters of color in particular more likely to cast ballots. Thanks to my colleague, Assemblyman Marc Berman’s legislation recently signed into law, this November’s election in California will be an all-mailed-ballot election. Every voter automatically will receive a ballot, postage paid, with community-level “vote centers” as back-up. Voting by mail is the most efficient and effective way to conduct an inclusive and participatory election.
So-called “red and blue” states alike have employed voting-by-mail, but the way states have approached elections administration varies greatly. Elections are fundamentally state and locally administered, and recent examples of mismanagement during primary elections in Wisconsin and Georgia remind us of the challenges facing election administrators across the country. This is a highly charged political atmosphere with huge stakes on the line.
There is a growing recognition that the pandemic must force changes in how elections work, and better ensure more participation moving forward. Attempts to help fund elections with federal dollars have fallen woefully short of what is needed to ensure free and fair elections across America. Since the Bush-Gore contested election in 2000, the efficacy of voting mechanisms and machinery have taken center stage. More recently, we are seeing a coordinated misinformation campaign to attack the integrity of, and undermine the public’s faith in, our elections. False narratives abound, and voter suppression, which disproportionally disenfranchises communities of color, is real and we all suffer the consequences as a result.
While voting-by-mail works, it is not perfect. Signature-matching issues have led to ballots not being counted, a concern that is actively being addressed in California. One other legitimate drawback to voting at home is the time it takes local elections’ officials to count waves of mail ballots and certify the election. The current administration is preemptively trying to undermine faith in the eventual vote count and may try to exploit delays in vote tabulation to question the legitimacy of results, triggering a constitutional crisis. While the long wait for vote-by-mail results is not ideal, it’s in the interest of every vote being counted, which is fundamental to our democracy.
During this tense time when we need leaders who can calm, heal, and build faith, the president has used this period to further divide people and incite violence, all while callously attacking the basic underpinnings of our democracy, like faith in and respect for the work of journalists — essentially a broadside on the First Amendment. The work of journalists and the social media platforms themselves have never been more important in fact checking false claims and advertisements with false information.
Vote as if democracy itself, and its pillars like a free press, the rule of law, and free and fair elections, including the right of every citizen to vote, is on the ballot. Because it is.
Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, is speaker pro tempore of the California Assembly and represents San Mateo County’s 22nd Assembly District.