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Mail ballots for all the safest way to vote

If you need convincing that mail-in ballots for all voters makes perfect sense in these uncertain times, take a look at neighboring Wisconsin for proof. The National Guard was called in to help when the number of election judges for the April 7 primary dwindled as COVID-19 cases increased.

Just before the primary, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin blocked efforts by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to delay the election because of the coronavirus pandemic and provide mail ballots to all voters. Then the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his order to extend the absentee ballot deadline.

So hundreds of thousands of voters still showed up at Wisconsin polling places because the election was important to them. But being dedicated citizens shouldn’t have meant risking their health and those around them. An estimated 25% of coronavirus victims are asymptomatic, so even if voters felt healthy, it doesn’t mean they weren’t infecting others. Some voters had two-hour waits at the polls.

At a time when social distancing, no mass gatherings and staying home when possible are paramount to keeping the number of seriously ill from flooding hospitals, forcing the polls to be open was irresponsible. And so avoidable.

Minnesota needs to learn from its neighbor to the east and take steps that ensure residents’ right to vote without putting public health at risk. Secretary of State Steve Simon is supporting legislation to make voting by mail possible for all Minnesotans during periods of peacetime emergency due to infectious disease outbreaks.

This is not a new way to vote; already 130,000 Minnesota residents participate in mail-in voting because they live in places with fewer than 400 voters. Unlike absentee voting, the ballots don’t need to be requested if voters are registered. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah already conduct elections entirely by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests moving toward mail voting in jurisdictions where it is allowed. Voters aren’t the only people at risk. Like in many states, numerous election judges in Minnesota are retired residents who fall into the high-risk category when it comes to severity of illness if the virus is contracted.

Despite some politicians using voting as a partisan football, mail-in ballots are a fair, smart way to safely handle November’s presidential election. A new study by Stanford political scientists — reaffirming and expanding on years of prior research — concludes no party gains an advantage when a state switches to universal vote-by-mail.

Just because we all want the pandemic to be over doesn’t mean it will be. All indicators point to this being a marathon and not a sprint. Many experts are saying cases could crest again in the fall.

As with any aspect of crisis planning, the more we prepare in advance, the better off we are. That applies to avoiding an election that could endanger people’s lives when it doesn’t have to.

Plans for mail-in balloting need to start today. As we can see by Wisconsin’s experience, last-minute decisions make a mess.

— Free Press of Mankato

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