In 79 days, Americans will vote under conditions none of us would have imagined – a raging pandemic, a staggering economic crisis and unrelenting attacks on our democracy from the president of the United States.
No president in our history has had less respect for democracy than Donald Trump. As a candidate, he refused to say whether he would accept the results of the 2016 election.
Having won, he claimed without evidence that millions of undocumented immigrants had voted for Hillary Clinton to explain why he lost the popular vote.
As president, Trump still denies Russia’s interference in our elections. Worse, he actively invited foreign interference by attempting to withhold security assistance from Ukraine to coerce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
Through it all, he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have blockaded virtually every effort to strengthen and protect our democracy.
At the start of this election year, Americans stood ready to overcome all of these obstacles to cast their ballots.
Then the pandemic struck. Instead of using the crisis to unite the country, the president has used it to continue his assault on our democracy – this time, by training his fire on vote-by-mail, a model we helped pioneer in Colorado.
For months, he has made one false claim after another about vote-by-mail. He claims it leads to fraud, even though the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, found that out of roughly 250 million absentee ballots cast over a 20-year span, the incidence of fraud was a mere 0.00006% of all ballots cast. Put differently, an American is more likely to be struck by lightning than commit mail voter fraud.
The president claims vote-by-mail invites foreign interference. He must not have spoken with his former Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, who praised Colorado as a national leader for election security and said she would “love to continue to use [Colorado] as an example of what other states can adopt.” She was right to do this.
Some election experts argue that because vote-by-mail leaves a paper trail, it is actually more secure than traditional, in-person voting.
The president has also claimed that vote-by-mail is an attempt by Democrats to steal the November election. He should talk to my Republican colleague, Sen. Cory Gardner, who won our state’s first election after transitioning to vote-by-mail.
The truth is, in two of our last three general elections, more registered Republicans voted by mail than Democrats. A recent study of Colorado’s elections found that vote-by-mail benefited both parties the same, increasing turnout by an average of eight percentage points.
This is the president’s true concern. He fears that he can’t win the vote, so he’s trying to suppress it. This is not speculation; the president admitted it last week on national television, saying he would oppose new funding for the U.S. Postal Service to keep states from expanding vote-by-mail.
This came after we learned that U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor, reportedly notified states about his intent to nearly triple the cost of sending ballots by mail – increasing costs for states weeks before the election and when their budgets are already stretched thin.
None of this is by accident. Together, the president’s words and deeds constitute the most brazen campaign of voter suppression since Jim Crow, and they, too, will go down in history with everlasting shame.
The question now is what history will say about the rest of us, having seen this blatant attack on our democracy. At a minimum, the Senate and the House of Representatives should immediately return to Washington to fully fund our elections and the U.S. Postal Service, overriding the president if required.
The time is long past for my Republican colleagues to decide whether they love our democracy more than they fear Donald Trump.
In Colorado, we should take every opportunity to burnish our example and push back against the disinformation about vote-by-mail.
Finally, we need to reach out to our friends and family across the country to make sure they have the right information to vote and save our democracy in its moment of need. We have 79 days.
Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, is the state’s senior U.S. Senator.
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