Mailing it in is one thing Colorado does well. When it comes to mail-in ballots, a recent hot topic for President Donald Trump, Colorado is a mile higher than most of our sister states.
Last week, Trump engaged in an inaccurate Tweetrum over Michigan’s plan to send out “absentee ballot applications.” He ignored the final word and jumped straight to a full-throated rant on the wrong subject, thereby tromping all over identical plans in red states such as Iowa, Georgia and Nebraska. In the midst of a health care crisis, these states have all decided it’s better to allow their citizens to vote from home.
But did we ever expect this president’s attention to reach that third word? I’m still a little surprised he understood the first two multi-syllable words: absentee ballot.
What he clearly doesn’t understand are the facts about absentee ballots. Or, if he does, like so many other objective truths, he ignores them simply because they don’t fit his re-election strategy. Whipping up fear and anxiety among his supporters has the two-fold benefit of increasing their engagement and distracting others from more substantive national matters.
The overwhelming and objective evidence, much of it based on our state’s own experience, demonstrates that mail balloting is a significant benefit to our democratic society.
First and foremost, it increases voter turnout and engagement substantially. Since adopting an all-mail ballot system, Colorado has regularly been close to the top of the nation when it comes to the number of its citizens taking part in elections. For example, during the 2018 midterm elections, which usually draw far fewer voters than presidential years, Colorado put up an admirable 60% compared turnout to the national average of 48%.
Our state and country are simply better when more people participate in elections.
Furthermore, the fears trumpeted by opponents, whether real, imagined or simply cynical, have been objectively disproved.
Thoughtful people can and should have concerns about security measures taken for all-mail ballot elections. For example, my friend, former State Sen. Greg Brophy, recently wrote a column highlighting three valid concerns: the integrity of the voter file database, the practice of “ballot harvesting” whereby individuals collect ballots from other people to deliver, and signature verification.
Brophy is a thoughtful individual — he’ll always have my appreciation for spending years championing an end to daylight savings time — and his concerns do not represent the wild conspiracy theories many other Republicans dabble in.
However, Colorado Secretaries of State from both parties have worked to mitigate those risks for years. The process for updating the voter file goes through multiple cross-references and both major parties get a seat at the table for signature review. As for ballot harvesting, that is an issue I agree needs more attention.
But Bropphy’s sound objections represent a distinct minority among opponents.
Most follow Trump’s lead and bark “FRAUD!” through the rabid foam trickling out of the corners of their mouth. Pressed on the matter, many only cite to have “heard some shady shit is going down.”
That is in stark contrast to the actual data. Here in Colorado, my former law partner and past Secretary of State Scott Gessler spent significant resources trying to uncover voter fraud only to inadvertently prove almost none existed.
By far the worst case against all-mail ballot is that it benefits Democrats to the detriment of Republicans. That position is both cynical and false. A Stanford review of elections in three states using that system provides the data-driven conclusion that vote-by-mail has no partisan effect on elections.
Even if it did, though, the political party on the short end of the stick should adapt to a system that increases citizen participation and not the other way around.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led an increasing number of states to begin adopting an array of vote-by-mail changes. Luckily, they’ll have Colorado and our election officials to turn to for help overcoming potential obstacles.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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