The Fight Over Vote-By-Mail is Over

The Washington Post has published this piece of mine. An excerpt:

The main fight over “vote by mail” is over. President Trump ended it, even if he doesn’t realize that.

In the past few weeks, the president has repeatedly and strongly endorsed absentee voting (good) as a jumping-off point for launching his attack on “universal” mail-in voting (bad). Vice President Pence, in lengthier, more developed comments, has roundly endorsed the same principles. Trump doubled down on these principles Tuesday, praising Florida’s use of absentee voting as “Safe and Secure, Tried and True.”

What the president perhaps does not realize is that the major issue for the November election has always been absentee voting. The question of universal mail-in voting is a sideshow. . . . The system that most states will be using this fall is absentee voting — precisely the system Trump and Pence have repeatedly endorsed. [As of now, 37 states will, or are likely to, permit people to vote absentee this fall without any special justification (as in Florida) or will permit fear of covid-19 to be a sufficient justification]

Only eight states will be using universal mail-in voting [only four of which will be using universal vote-by-mail for the first time in a presidential election this fall].  The president has already decried Nevada’s recent switch and sued to stop it, but even if critics want to attack these four new, “universal vote-by-mail” states — or all eight of them — they are shooting at a small target. . . .

Many liberal commentators have reacted to Trump’s comments by reflexively making fun of him. They shout, sometimes in all caps, ABSENTEE AND MAIL-IN VOTING ARE THE SAME THING. Alternatively, they point out high-ranking administration officials who have voted absentee in past elections, to charge the president with hypocrisy.

The better strategy, for those who support absentee voting, is to recognize when victory is staring them in the face and grasp it. As a practical matter, the form of mail-in voting that really matters for this fall is absentee voting. The die is cast on that. But in our polarized culture, it is also crucial that the election process be accepted as legitimate, among as many citizens as possible.

Now that the president and vice president have roundly endorsed absentee voting, the focus should be on making sure that everyone understands that. Reporters should be confirming with public officials that they support absentee voting; commentators should be emphasizing the breadth of agreement on this. Down the road, we can argue about whether the administrative difference between absentee voting and universal mail-in voting — whether voters must request an absentee ballot or will be sent one by the state — makes one approach better than the other. For now, the more urgent task is to ensure that the predominant form of mail-in voting this fall is widely endorsed. . .

[T]he predominant form that mail-in voting will take is absentee voting. Every time the president says “absentee voting is good but … ,” the right thing to do is to make sure his endorsement of absentee voting is heard widely.

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