Republicans sacrifice voter safety, so Dems need an in-person voting plan

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I understand why Democrats are pushing for an all-mail election.

Keeping voters away from crowds and minimizing the need for poll workers makes sense. Without a doubt, it’s the safest way to conduct an election during a pandemic.

But let’s be honest. Democrats’ chances of winning support from their Republican colleagues for an all-mail election is as likely as Trump tapping former President Barack Obama to lead a bipartisan task force on reopening the economy.

It ain’t gonna happen.

Republicans are determined to oppose any and all expansions of vote-by-mail efforts this year. Party leaders claim their opposition is about maintaining electoral integrity. Vote-by-mail, something we’ve done here in Arizona for many years, is suddenly ripe for fraud.

Too bad there isn’t a modicum of evidence to support this claim. In fact, as Arizona Mirror reported last week, “Officials in states where everyone casts their ballot by mail say Republican claims that such elections are havens for fraud and stolen elections aren’t true.”

But facts are so yesterday.

The fraud narrative sells, especially among voters who have been conditioned to distrust government and doubt elections when their favored candidate loses. It also sounds much better than the real reason to oppose an all-mail election: because it will drive up turnout.

Republicans are fearful of high turnout in competitive states because they believe it favors Democrats, and they’re probably correct.

Here in Arizona, Trump’s favorability ratings continue to slide. Democrat Mark Kelly is consistently polling ahead of Republican Martha McSally in the U.S. Senate race, and Republicans only hold a one seat advantage in the state House of Representatives.

If Arizonans oust Trump and McSally, it’s likely they’ll tip the balance of power in the state Legislature, as well. And nothing strikes fear in the heart of a politician more than the loss of power.

Hence, the desperate attempt to suppress the vote.

But in the absence of an all-mail election, Democrats must not give up on finding a safer alternative for voters. Instead, I’d suggest they double-down on safety requirements for in-person voting.

South Korea held a nationwide election last week, and just as that nation led the world in its test, trace and treat model for COVID-19, so too is it providing a template for in-person elections during a pandemic.

As detailed by TIME magazine, the country implemented a number of precautions that have become commonplace during a contagion, such as thoroughly sanitizing polling locations, keeping voters physically distanced in line, mandating masks, and offering disposable gloves and hand sanitizer to all voters.

But the government in Seoul also went above and beyond the basics. 

It expanded in-person voting from one to two days to keep the lines shorter. It mandated temperature checks for all voters, and if a fever was detected, instead of infringing on that voter’s right and sending him or her home, the voter used a separate polling location. Special polling locations were also designated for those in quarantine, along with the ability to vote-by-mail.

For Arizona to implement the same safety measures, we’d need to greatly expand our polling locations and employ many more poll workers. And we’d need an adequate supply of thermometers, hand sanitizer and gloves, as well as an education component to inform voters of new rules. 

In a state that tends to shortchange our elections – through lack of funding and manpower – switching to a South Korean model would require a herculean effort. But if South Korea can do it, why can’t we?

We don’t know if this virus will die out during the heat of summer or make a resurgence in the fall. That’s why leaders – true public servants – should be making plans for best- and worst-case scenarios, now.

Even though an all-mail election is the safest way forward, Democrats should be willing to present an alternate plan, one that offers robust safety precautions for in-person voting.

Republicans will have a difficult time arguing against those measures, because the fraud narrative doesn’t work in this scenario. And if they choose to execute elections as usual, it’ll be a clear sign to voters that winning at any cost trumps voter safety.