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Opinion Columns

Carman: Colorado, the “gold standard” in safe, accessible voting must lead the way for the nation

We interrupt this program of obsessive stress-baking and dog-walking for an important public service announcement.

Only five states have all-mail voting systems, and there are only 211 days until the general election on Nov. 3. With indefinite stay-at-home orders across much of the country and experts forecasting a high probability of a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak in the fall, many voters likely will decide that going to the polls to vote in primaries and the general election is simply too dangerous. 

Diane Carman

A recent poll by the Pew Center found 66% of Americans said it is too dangerous to go to the polls to vote.

But, despite the obvious threat the pandemic poses to the elections, opponents in Congress whittled the request Democrats made for rapid implementation of mail voting systems down to a measly $400 million in the final coronavirus spending package.

So, democracy could become the next casualty of the coronavirus. 

Disturbingly, that may be by design.

President Donald Trump admitted last week that he opposed the Democrats’ mail voting proposal because it would eliminate several means of voter suppression, making it easier for a lot more people to participate in elections. “They had things, levels of voting that if you ever agreed to, you would never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said.

He called such things as online and same-day voter registration, expanded early voting opportunities and sending absentee ballots to all registered voters “just totally crazy.”

In Colorado, we call it business as usual. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Colorado has a voting system that not only is the most accessible in the country with the highest rates of voter registration and voter turnout, it’s considered the safest, Secretary of State Jena Griswold said. 

“Colorado is the gold standard,” she said.

That’s why about one-third of the secretaries of state across the country have contacted her office in the past few weeks seeking help in creating vote-by-mail systems in time for the November elections.

Despite the tight timeline and limited funding, Griswold said, implementing mail voting in all 50 states is “100% feasible and becoming an emerging duty” as the pandemic threatens to force Americans into an ugly choice between exercising their right to vote and protecting their health. 

Griswold said most states are not starting at square one in the process.

Thirty-six states already offer mail-in or drop-off absentee ballots for voters without requiring an excuse – such as illness, advanced age or disability.

“It’s absolutely feasible,” she said. Furthermore, regardless of the expense and the challenge, “voting is our fundamental right and it’s incumbent upon the nation to ensure Americans can exercise that right.”

Griswold said there are three main components to implementing vote-by-mail systems in the rest of the country.

“So, it’s complicated, but not complicated.”

First, elections officials need to consult with people who have experience with the systems so they aren’t wasting valuable time. “We’re working with quite a few of them right now,” she said.

States need to adopt centralized service centers using ballot scanners to compile the results, and that also means working with vendors to obtain that hardware.

They also need to develop relationships with national printing vendors who have experience creating the mail ballots and get to work designing them.

“All this requires money,” the secretary of state said, which is why she said Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s proposal requesting $2 billion to $4 billion to pay for vote by mail systems in all 50 states is a critical next step.

Griswold also has consulted with U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Amy Klobuchar in their proposed legislation to require all states offer the option for mail-in or drop-off paper ballots. 

Never in the history of our country – “not even during the Civil War” – has an election been suspended or even delayed, Griswold said and, given the obvious success of vote-by-mail systems in Colorado, there’s absolutely no reason to deny other Americans’ right to vote or endanger the integrity of the elections this year – pandemic be damned.

So, while we’re all understandably distracted by the terrifying toll that COVID-19 is taking on our friends, our families and our way of life, we have to rally around the campaign to protect voting rights and expand vote-by-mail all across the country.

Coloradans know it can be done. We know it works.

Spread the word.

Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.