The COVID-19 pandemic has posed new questions for the government at both a local and national level–one of which being, how will we vote in November?
To answer this question, I set out to find an expert in election science and one of our local representatives.
I interviewed Professor M.V. Hood, a leading expert in election administration, in response to the controversies surrounding voting by mail and state powers. Hood is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Georgia and is a specialist in voter ID laws, early in-person voting, election fraud, and online voter registration.
I also heard from Ohio Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, who is the Chief Elections Officer. In 2016, LaRose was honored by the Ohio Association of Election Officials as Legislator of the Year in acknowledgment of his efforts to improve Ohio’s elections.
In our current state of affairs, it seems voting by mail is the best alternative to voting in person to prevent the risk of exposure. “In terms of public health, certainly voting by mail would be the safest route,” says Hood.
There are opponents to this option, particularly from the executive branch.
In President Trump’s latest tweet storm, mail-in voting for the November election has been the subject of his attacks.
On May 26, President Trump tweeted, “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.”
This claim has been discredited by multiple fact-checking experts. In“Let’s put the vote-by-mail ‘fraud’ myth to rest “ by opinion Contributors Amber McReynolds and Charles Stewart III (The Hill), voter fraud in absentee voting is “an occurrence that translates to about 0.00006 percent of total votes cast.” In fact, Twitter flagged this tweet by the president and added a fact-check label, which is the first time the platform has ever done so for his tweets.
Last week, Trump threatened to withhold funding from Michigan and Nevada after the states announced their plans to increase voting by mail procedures.
The president needs to review the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that powers not delegated at the federal level are reserved for the states.
Trump recently said that if the country transitioned to voting by mail, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Whether this argument about voting by mail is true, Hood says, “I don’t think there is a definite answer one way or another. Typically older, white voters are more likely to use vote by mail . . . but if we are in the middle of a pandemic, and people are switching from in-person voting to vote by mail, that may not be true anymore. There are a lot of variables in play here.”
Additionally, inReid J. Epstein and Stephanie Saul’s “Does Vote-by-Mail Favor Democrats? No. It’s a False Argument by Trump” (The New York Times), they note there is no evidence that voting by mail is favorable to one party on a partisan level.
One of the president’s main concerns is that voting by mail would heighten cases of voter fraud. I asked Professor Hood whether the United States could implement technology to minimize the risk of identity theft, similar to the sophisticated biometric voter registration used in Yemen.
Hood says, “I think there would be a huge blowback about collecting people’s fingerprints from a civil liberties perspective . . . that technology exists, but I don’t think that would work in the United States.”
I also asked Professor Hood whether the president could delay the election because of the pandemic: “I feel pretty certain that the answer to that is no. Congress could, because if you look at Article I Section 4 of the Constitution, Congress is charged with the times, places, and manner of elections.”
“If the president tries to delay the election, I assume it would be taken to court, and he would probably lose. Now could Congress delay the election? Yes, potentially, that could happen . . . It might require a stiffer majority of 60 senators to invoke cloture and avoid a filibuster.”
Hood described how the elections will occur on a state-by-state basis: “Every state will determine how they hold an election in terms of how voting will take place. Some states like Oregon, Washington, or Colorado are nearly all vote by mail.”
If there are states that have relied more on in-person voting in the past, Hood says they will have to ramp up the infrastructure that is required to send out and process the absentee ballots–however, “It is something that that states would be needing to do right now.”
Hood explained how the entire election process is complicated because every state has a different election environment, “Ohio’s state legislature will be making decisions about things in the Fall, which are almost certainly not going to be the same decisions made in other states. So it is a state-by-state matter.”
Is Ohio prepared? I contacted Secretary Frank LaRose.
Secretary LaRose began by acknowledging the success of our state in its recent primary election: “The tireless and dedicated bipartisan teams of election officials in each of our 88 counties made Ohio the first state to respond to this pandemic by conducting our election almost entirely by mail. And in spite of these challenges, Ohio voters made their voices heard at a rate comparable to the more competitive 2012 presidential primary.”
He also assured that the November election “cannot and will not be delayed or postponed,” so the state legislature is currently enacting a plan using the lessons from the previous election to make early in-person voting and voting by mail available.
LaRose describes the voting by mail process in Ohio, “For nearly two decades, Ohio has offered voting by mail as a secure and convenient option.”
“Unlike some states, Ohio does it right by prohibiting ballot harvesting and putting in place common sense safeguards like maintaining accurate voter rolls and requiring voters to verify their identity when requesting and casting a ballot.”
LaRose presented four priorities for the state legislature:
1) Allow online requests for a vote-by-mail ballot
2) Absentee ballot requests with postage-paid envelopes, and postage-paid envelopes for ballots
3) A realistic timeline for ballots to be delivered to Ohioans
4) Enhanced election infrastructure and accommodations for in-person voting.
LaRose is committed to ensuring a secure election that does not inconvenience Ohians nor put them at unnecessary risk, but he is equally devoted to minimizing stress on our postal system in the event of more votes by mail.
“Finally, I am committed to providing in person voting this fall, but to do so will require a consolidation of polling locations and a significant poll worker recruitment effort, while also following the necessary health and safety accommodations.”
“My office has already begun working with county elections officials to get a full after-action report about their needs going forward,” writes LaRose. “Maybe it’s another tabulation machine or another printer; or maybe it’s simply more temporary employees to deal with the volume of mail. Our workers at the front lines must be armed with what they need to succeed.”
In the midst of uncertainty, find comfort in the assurance that the state of Ohio will extend to its constituents options for voting. Whether by mail or in-person with the proper infrastructure, Ohians will have their voice heard on November 3rd.