A voter places his ballot in a secure ballot box in Phoenix, Arizona, a week before the Nov. 1, 2022 midterm elections. MATT YORK/AP
Twenty years ago, the states of the American West were at the forefront of the electoral process. In 1998, Oregon was the first company to fully implement postal voting. In California, voters didn’t even have to provide a reason for their absence. In Colorado, they could vote in their supermarket parking lot. Locally elected officials saw advances in these innovations. The law provides a way to increase turnout (while reducing costs) in a country that votes not on Sundays or public holidays, but “on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November”.
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In the west it was also about compensating for the remoteness, the distance between the ranches and the county towns. The winter migration of thousands of retirees from northern cities (“snowbirds”) to sunny states has accelerated the adoption of postal voting. This has spread to the rest of the country. Today, 27 states and the District of Columbia (Washington) offer voters the ability to vote in advance, remotely, and without a reason. Eight states conduct their elections entirely by mail (seven in the west plus Vermont). Voters receive their ballot automatically at home without having to request it. They deposit their envelopes either at the post office or in boxes outside, placed in front of libraries, churches, homes for the elderly.
Twenty years later, it’s a big step backwards. The November 8 election will trigger a fit of paranoia among Conservatives, unless there is an attempt to interfere in the conduct of the election. These “drop boxes” that used to be a symbol of innovation are now a symbol of suspicion. Republicans are questioning mail-in voting, which they see as the cause of their champion’s 2020 defeat. The machines are considered suspicious, easy prey for would-be Democrat hackers. There is even talk of counting by hand again.
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Democrats like President Joe Biden are concerned about this “assault on democracy” led since 2020 by the deniers, the Republicans, who are contesting his victory and eroding confidence in the election process. In fact, the undermining had begun long before that. From 2016, Donald Trump has expressed “skepticism” about postal voting and suggested postal workers could interfere in the process. He has already advised his supporters to come to the polling station in person. In 2020, at the dawn of the Covid-19 epidemic, he opposed Democrats’ plan to include funds in the economic bailout plan to expand “mail-in voting,” a proposal likely to increase turnout. “You would never vote for a Republican in this country again! ‘ he told Fox News’ antenna. In the summer, there was a dispute with the Democrats over a postal reform that opportunistically abolished the services a few months before the election.
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