As the coronavirus ravages the United States, it’s not only endangering the lives of thousands of Americans, but also the foundations of American democratic elections. While COVID-19 and its devastating effects have rightly dominated the headlines for the past few weeks, an important event has been occurring all over the country- the 2020 election. The future of the country is uncertain, with experts unsure exactly how long citizens will need to remain isolated to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This poses an issue to the ongoing primary elections as almost half of states have yet to cast ballots in the presidential primary, and the national presidential election is less than seven months away. The best way to do this is to expand vote-by-mail efforts, but Republicans are objecting because they fear mail voting will harm their efforts of voter suppression.
One of the fundamental tenants of democracy is the existence of a free and fair election, which means that every eligible citizen should be able to cast a vote. Currently, to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, the government is recommending, and in some states mandating, that people avoid going out in public or gathering in large groups, which makes in-person voting a challenge. While some states have postponed their primaries, states such as Wisconsin have refused to change the date, which has forced voters to choose between their health and their right to vote. This is problematic for a primary, but much more dangerous for the general election in November, which can’t be rescheduled. Many Democrats are pushing for states to widely implement a vote-by-mail system, which would prevent the need for in-person voting in the presidential election. Taking steps to provide vote-by-mail for all states who might need it will ensure that no citizen has to decide if they are willing to risk their lives to discharge their right to vote.
Many Republicans, however, have come out against voting by mail. President Trump addressed one reason that this voting system should be rejected when he wrote on Twitter, “Tremendous potential for voter fraud.” This fear of voter fraud has been a popular one among Republicans in recent years, and they seem to fear rampant voter fraud with mail-in-voting. It is true that there is a slightly increased risk of voter fraud with mail-in-voting, with the possibility of ballots being stolen or changed. However, experts from states that already use mail-in-voting believe that there are easy measures such as ballot tracking that can protect the integrity of almost every ballot. They also emphasize that voter fraud in any system of voting within the United States is incredibly rare. As Lieberman and his coauthors explain, claims of voter fraud are almost always wrong and are often used to disenfranchise minority voters. This fact points to another problem Republicans have with voting by mail- accessibility.
Republicans concerns about greater voting accessibility were revealed by President Trump in the second part of his tweet, as he explained, “for whatever reason, [mail-in-voting] doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” Republicans don’t fear voter fraud, but rather that greater access to voting could result in fewer votes for Republicans. There is no evidence to suggest that mail-in-voting would result in a higher percentage of votes for Democrats, but evidence does suggest that it increases voting access for minorities, a group that Republicans do not do well with. Republicans have admitted to engaging in efforts to suppress votes, and vote-by-mail would harm those efforts. Republicans want to prevent large scale voter turnout because they fear an increase in voting will harm their electoral chances. One of the most dangerous methods of democratic backsliding is election manipulation, which Nancy Bermeo describes as “a range of actions aimed at tilting the electoral playing field in favor of incumbents… [and] it typically occurs long before polling day.” This fits with Republican voter suppression, and it is clear that these efforts to prevent many vulnerable citizens from voting are an attempt at influencing the outcome of the election. To strengthen their argument, they have weaponized the extreme polarization in the United States. By tying vote-by-mail to decreased Republican success, they are framing the issue as partisan. Partisan loyalty is an extremely influential factor for citizens, and turning mail voting into a danger for Republicans, it will force citizens and governors alike to reject mail-in-voting efforts in order to protect their party. While preventing higher voting turnout is obviously anti-democratic, most people will prioritize the goals of their own party ahead of the foundations of democracy. Efforts to manipulate our election by preventing voting access, especially during such an uncertain time, could severely harm the legitimacy of our democracy.
Though Republicans have hid their
objections to mail voting behind partisan arguments, it is clear that they are
afraid to lose their greatest weapon- voter suppression. Our democracy depends
on the existence of elections that allow every eligible citizen to vote, and
vote-by-mail efforts could be the way to ensure that. It is imperative that
every person who believes in democracy stands behind this necessary change to
our electoral system. No one knows if it will benefit one party over the other,
but we do know that it will allow every eligible citizen to exercise their
constitutional right to vote. This change may only be temporary, but it could
vastly improve the equality of American elections, and at a time when our
democracy seems to be faltering, it has never been more imperative.
 Dahl, Robert. 1972. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press. Chapter 1.
 Lieberman, Robert C., Suzanne Mettler, Thomas B. Pepinsky, Kenneth M. Roberts, & Richard Valelly. “Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States.” Working paper.
 Bermeo, Nancy. 2016. “On Democratic Backsliding.” Journal of Democracy 27(1): pp. 13.
 Svolik, Milan W. 2019. “Polarization versus Democracy.” Journal of Democracy 30(3): pp. 20-32.