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OPINION: JESSICA MAHURON — Here’s what’s needed for a great election

| August 21, 2020 1:00 AM

Nationally, we are facing an election fraught with challenges to ensure all eligible citizens can vote safely. For months, nonpartisan voting, civil and human rights organizations along with election officials have advocated for a minimum of $3.6 billion in critical funding so states can upgrade their infrastructure and prepare to handle the challenges of running an election during a pandemic. Mired in partisan conflict and a misinformation campaign to discredit voting by mail, Congress has provided only $400 million in the March 2020 CARES Act, leaving the burden of operating safe, secure and accessible elections in a pandemic to the states.

To add to the challenges, there is a calculated assault on the USPS, purposely causing delays in delivery, removal of mail sorting machines and blocking bipartisan support to provide critical funding. USPS warned 46 states that voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots. Comments publicly made by the president make it clear the intent of this senseless assault is to suppress the vote and sabotage absentee voting, the method millions of Americans are choosing to avoid unnecessary risk to their health. People who depend on time-sensitive deliveries by the USPS such as medicines and Social Security checks, are hurt by the effort to thwart the democratic process.

States vary dramatically in their processes for voter registration and voting options. In Idaho, we have a lot to be proud of for voting rights in relation to many other states. We offer online voter registration, same-day voter registration, in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting and now we can request our ballot in the mail at idahovotes.gov. These existing policies put our state in a better position to have a safe, secure and accessible election.

If you intend to vote absentee, I urge you to request it now if you have not done so already. We must all set a plan to vote now, including deciding to turn in our absentee ballots directly to the Elections Office if necessary. When the online absentee ballot request was first made available during the May Primary election, it did not include the checkbox to receive your ballot by mail for the General Election, as the paper request form does.

To be clear, voting rights organizations advocate for safe, in-person voting along with absentee voting or vote by mail. In-person voting is essential, given that many, including Native Americans on tribal lands, do not have access to mail voting. There are people with disabilities who rely on assistance at the polls. Imagine a blind person voting by mail on a paper ballot that does not come in braille.

Polling places should follow public health guidelines that includes sanitization and social distancing protocol to ensure safe in-person voting. In theory, everyone who walks into a polling location has a civic duty to adhere to set safety guidelines. But that would entail a widespread voluntary effort by our citizens to do so. Unfortunately, there are enough people locally who refuse to abide by COVID-19 safety guidelines, or for one reason or another, do not believe the virus is a real public health threat. There are people who do not believe they have a responsibility to their community and country to slow the spread with their daily actions, but they too, have a Constitutional right to vote.

A mask mandate with no enforcement does not change behavior and attempts to educate are difficult because cognitive dissonance causes people to reject information that does not support their beliefs. If someone refuses to wear a mask in a grocery store, they will refuse to wear one at a polling location. You cannot deny someone their right to vote if they refuse to wear a mask.

Will our polling locations have proper ventilation, something that is not stressed nearly enough? For those who strongly prefer to vote in person, there should be a two-week period of in-person voting where crowds can be avoided before Nov. 3. But again, early voting details cannot be confirmed until after the Idaho Special Legislative Session.

There is a huge need for poll workers to carry out in-person voting. I applaud anyone who steps up to the task and serves. I am torn to take that risk, even as a younger person. Fourteen hours indoors, mask or no mask, in an environment where not all people are willing to take precautions with an airborne virus, seems dangerous.

But back to vote by mail, absentee voting and the misinformation campaign to discredit a voting process that has been available since the Civil War. The states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah and now Hawaii conduct elections primarily through mail. To say these states that have invested heavily in security infrastructure are prone to “many cases” of election fraud is an exaggeration and falsehood. Yes, all registered voters are mailed a ballot in those states, but there are many security measures taken to ensure the integrity of their elections that include but not limited to: signature verification, strong penalties for breaking the law and checking registration records against the national death index. Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, has shared her knowledge and experience of vote by mail elections widely and addresses security concerns.

Vote fraud is exceedingly rare — in fact, there are greater chances of being struck by lightning. In an Op-Ed published in April 2020 by the executive director of the Vote at Home Institute, there have been more than 250 million votes cast by mail over the last 20 years. From the Heritage Foundation’s database of election fraud cases, there have been just over 1,200 instances, only 204 involving fraudulent use of absentee ballots. In Oregon, there have been only two mail-ballot fraud cases verifiable with conviction in the last two decades, or 0.000004 percent of 50 million ballots cast.

Voter suppression, not trumped up fraud claims, is what should sound the alarms. Placing unnecessary barriers to prevent certain demographics from voting and the widespread practice of gerrymandering is what is truly troubling. A U.S. president openly attacking our public mail service for personal gain is what should enrage us. Chronic low voter turnout, especially among younger generations, is what should spur societal action. And we should pay close attention to whatever occurs in the Idaho Special Legislative Session regarding the upcoming election.

Lastly, I want to stress the vital role of organizing locally and to have hope, no matter the challenges we face. Apathy has no purpose. When crises hit, we must adapt and innovate to solve problems. To help inform and register voters locally, the Civic Engagement Alliance, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is organizing a nonpartisan CDA VOTES 2020 campaign. We welcome partners and volunteers to join us. You can learn more about our activities and how to get involved at www.civicengagecda.com/cda-votes-2020.

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Jessica Mahuron is a Coeur d’Alene resident and community organizer for the Civic Engagement Alliance.