Make Election Day a National Holiday, Solve Mail-in Voting Debacle

Just a quick glance and one can see 2020 is a bad year to experiment with an election. We are politically divided as a country, battling a public health pandemic, facing civil unrest and upticks of violence in many large cities, and trust in American institutions (Washington, the Postal Service, the media), are at low points. This combination of factors, mixed with added distrust, uncertainty or significant delays in electing a president would be fertile ground for more commotion, protests, and potential violence. That’s why widespread mail-in voting for the 2020 election is a foolish proposition.

While I don’t believe without evidence that mail-in voting = fraud & delays (I am aware that in 2016 almost 25% of ballots were sent through the mail), my response would be that we have already seen evidence of election chaos in New Jersey and New York where mail-in ballots were used more heavily than usual in local elections. In New Jersey, 1 in 5 mail-in ballots were marked as fraudulent in their May municipal elections. In New York, the final results from a string of primary elections were announced a whole 6 weeks after the election day. In the final tally, more than 1 in 5 mail-in ballots were disqualified because they either lacked a postmark, voters failed to sign the last page, or other errors.

A six week delay! And that was on a microcosmic scale (there were ~400,000 ballots in New York). A national election with millions of ballots would multiply the potential complications and delays.

Finally, an obvious concern is that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has already warned almost all 50 states that it may not be able to deliver mail-in ballots in time for voters to complete and return them by November 3.

Let’s Resolve This Debacle by Making Election Day a National Holiday

If we operate from the premise that maximizing voting in-person is the best way to ensure a fair and fast election, the first thing to do is to make voting in-person as easy and safe as possible. We should start by making November 3 a National Holiday. There has been talk of such a holiday in years past and now would be a perfect time to start. Doing so would:

  1. Give people more time to vote at the polls. U.S. voter participation is dismally low compared to many democratic countries, and giving people a day off from work may help.
  2. Reduce crowding at poll sites and give staff more time to clean and disinfect.

States should not send ready-ballots to all voters. For those that wish to or must, absentee ballots will always be an option, but the important difference is that the onus will be on the voter to request a ballot. This would have the effect of reducing the total number of mail-in ballots in circulation, thereby easing pressure on the USPS system and reducing the opportunities for bad actors to mess with unused ballots.

Voting in-Person is a Low Risk, Essential Activity

Presumably the reason states and politicians want to avoid in-person voting is the coronavirus. Judged on its own, however, voting in-person is a low-risk activity. Socially distanced and wearing masks, voters could wait in line (or in their cars if the weather is cold) at polling stations, similar to how people waited at grocery stores early on in the pandemic. Upon entering the polling site, voters would spend just 5–10 minutes completing their ballot (a very short amount of time to be in an enclosed space).

Even if we grant the premise that voting in-person poses a more serious health risk, we should exhibit some consistency in how we judge which activities are worth the risk. We have decided that BLM protests, which often involve thousands of people congregated closely together, are worth it. Is not a fair presidential election in a tumultuous moment for our country worth a similar if not lesser risk? Is voting not an “essential” activity?

A Peaceful Transition is at Stake

Fair elections are at the heart of a healthy democracy, providing stability during transitions of leadership. We take for granted the fact that we have peacefully passed on the presidential baton during the entire history of our country (many countries do not have such a luxury). With this in mind, if a fair election and peaceful transition is what we want, we need to minimize anything that would compromise the election process. We already saw glimpses in 2016 of the chaos that can happen when an election’s fairness and results are cast into doubt. Instead of being flippant, it’s time for federal and state lawmakers to earn their keep by ensuring the integrity of the 2020 election.

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