Our View: But amid coronavirus, he can stir up fears about mail-in balloting and in-person voting. There’s time to build up confidence for Nov. 3.
Donald Trump raised the specter Thursday of a delayed presidential election — citing unfounded claims of mail-in ballot fraud. His tweet sent shivers through Americans who fear he’ll stop at nothing to remain in office.
By all accounts, Trump lacks legal authority to postpone the vote and, in any event, the Constitution says his first term ends Jan. 20. The presidential election has never been delayed in an American history replete with times of war and pestilence.
But where the president succeeded, and can do still more damage, was fomenting confusion and angst ahead of an election already fraught with risks to its integrity.
Millions are frightened even to cast votes at a time when a highly communicable disease is running rampant through too many communities. States are racing to accommodate by expanding mail-in voting, even though many have not done so at this scale.
Fumbling primary efforts in several states led to hours of waiting in line for in-person ballots. While voter enthusiasm is high, new registration is in free fall — particularly among young people and minorities — as coronavirus undermines traditional sign-up efforts.
It’s little wonder that growing numbers of Democrats and Republicans are primed to reject elections results that don’t go their way.
The good news is there’s still time to build confidence in the Nov. 3 vote:
►A fair election during a pandemic costs money. Congress must settle differences on a coronavirus stimulus bill, and that includes coming together on election money for the states. Republicans need to embrace the funding and Democrats need to ease up strings attached to the spending so the two sides can compromise.
States must hire and train younger poll workers — perhaps attracting them with the offer of education credits — since traditional volunteers are predominantly older people understandably averse to working during an outbreak where they are at higher risk of infection. Where early in-person voting is expanded, as it should be, those workers will be needed for longer periods of time.
►Make mail-in voting work. However much Trump and Attorney General William Barr (without evidence) rail against the process, the risks of fraud are almost nonexistent. Thankfully, most states aren’t listening. The result is that more than 80 million voters are being mailed ballots or applications to vote by states, and an additional 96 million will be able to vote by mail if they request it. That’s 77% of the voting population.
It’s another reason federal funding is crucial. States and counties will be investing in additional ballot-counting space, equipment such as high-speed scanners, and specialized envelopes and paper, to facilitate record levels of mailed ballots. And staffing need will grow still further. States should accept mailed ballots postmarked by Election Day, as opposed to those that arrive by Election Day, in anticipation of an overwhelmed Postal Service (run by a Trump supporter who has already slowed down processing). In the alternative, states could provide more drop-off sites for absentee ballots to avoid relying on the mail.
►Voters need to be vigilant and patient. Those who want to mail in their vote should begin to act now to request a ballot and return it as soon as possible to avoid having it rejected for arriving too late. Others can learn whether and where early voting will be conducted in their precinct to avoid long lines.
More than anything, voters need to understand that the winner of the election may not be known at the end of Nov. 3. The odds are strong, particularly given the days it could take to count mailed-in votes, that the result will be tardy. It certainly won’t discredit the results, no matter what Trump might say or do.
This election will test not only the integrity of the electoral process, but also whether, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, governments “deriv(e) their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Trump’s tweets shouldn’t distract from the need to get the vote right.
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