Defying Trump, 27 states now use mail-in voting

“We, the People” made the Constitution. But our right to vote is not included in the Bill of Rights. Still, the Constitution protects it.

The Ninth Amendment says that the specific inclusion of only some rights does not “deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The right to vote is retained by the people.

Voting decisions are made by Congress or the states, but not the president, and are limited to eligibility and how, where and when to conduct elections. Eliminating voting is not an option.

At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln spoke about preserving government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  These few words expressed the essence of the American system and the role of voting.

“For the people” means that government acts on behalf of Americans. Government should take care of the interests of the people.

“Of the people” refers to the Republic, a representative democracy. At the time Lincoln spoke, only the House of Representatives was chosen directly by voters. The Senate, the president and the Supreme Court were chosen by indirect processes, but all began with popular voting.

“By the people” is about the vote itself. Ultimately, every government decision maker gets to hold public office thanks to voters somewhere along the line.

After Lincoln, the Constitution was amended. Senators became directly elected. The idea of who could vote expanded to include men who had been slaves, women, younger people and D.C. citizens in presidential elections.

Voting is not compulsory and some people don’t vote. When asked, many of them say they believe their vote doesn’t make a difference or that there’s no real choice, because all politicians are alike. That may have changed after 2016.

The political parties have grown to understand that a majority of members of a group may favor one party or political viewpoint – Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal. So a party will seek to encourage voting by groups favorable to it.

In recent years, the Republican Party has openly sought to place obstacles in the path of members of groups deemed to support Democrats. In particular, the GOP has tried to suppress voting by lower-income, minority people.

The GOP has deployed measures based on unsupported allegations of voter fraud. To combat this supposed fraud, some states require voters to jump new hurdles on the way to the ballot box.

The biggest single issue has been requiring specific types of voter identification, which can be made costly or complicated to obtain. Senate Republicans have blocked funding for the use of more paper ballots, which would reduce the chance of efforts at electronic tampering.

Aside from actual barriers to voting, House districting in some states is designed to keep the number of seats for a party as low as possible or, similarly, to reduce the impact of voting by African-Americans. The Supreme Court allows the states great latitude.

To encourage voting, states are turning increasingly to mail-in ballots. Five states have permanently adopted this system. Ballots are mailed to all voters. The decision is not partisan. Among the five is solidly Republican Utah.

Five more states, including two under GOP control, have adopted mail-in voting to deal with the Covid-19 situation. An additional 17, some Republican dominated, automatically send voters applications for mail-in ballots. A total of 27 states use mail-in voting.

All states also allow absentee voting by mail, usually subject to voter request. President Trump has voted absentee.

States under the political control of either party have found almost no cases of voter fraud.  There’s no support whatsoever for charges of massive vote tampering. Voters always have an option to vote in person.

Trump vigorously promotes the idea that mail ballots will allow wholesale fraud, but offers no evidence that it has happened in states using that system. His repeated charge may raise doubts among some voters, so he can later challenge the outcome of elections in states he loses.

He implies that only Democrats commit fraud. In 2016, he claims that many votes for Hillary Clinton were fraudulent and finds that no votes for him were similarly tainted. Just as now, he offers no evidence.

Trump has undermined the Postal Service. If ballots are slow to be delivered through its system, he sees even more opportunity for claiming fraud.

Building on the doubt he has tried to create, Trump raised the possibility of delaying the election. He reportedly hopes for a Covid-19 vaccine to be approved in time to boost his chances for reelection and delay could help.

Voting is a right of American citizens. Protecting government “by the people” means a president should promote voting, not stand in the way of citizens exercising their right to vote.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.