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Doubts about America’s foray into mass mail voting have been pooh-poohed for months. Western states have pulled off all-absentee balloting for years, the news write-ups say in a throwaway line. What do they have that the rest of us lack? Well, for one thing, check out their solid deadlines.
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In Colorado, registered voters are to be mailed a ballot by Oct. 16. Election officials can begin counting incoming ballots on Oct. 19. If people register to vote within eight days of the election, they won’t be sent a ballot by mail and must go get one themselves. That makes it much less likely that voters will go to court after Election Day, claiming that the mailman didn’t bring their ballots until Nov. 3 or after.
Oregon is even more strict. If you’re not registered to vote today, it’s already too late. To participate in an election, Oregonians must be on the rolls 21 days in advance. Residents not registered by Oct. 13 will sit out November and cast their next presidential vote in 2024. Ballots start being mailed out on Oct. 14. There’s no provision for laggards, no allowance for requesting a late mail ballot or picking one up at the county office.
If Oregon were a GOP state, its rules might be characterized as “voter suppression,” a cynical attempt to blockade the ballot box. But a deadline is a neutral rule, and running a tight ship is especially vital when many or all ballots are going by the U.S. Postal Service.
This year’s big potential swing states are taking a loosey-goosey approach. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin don’t start processing piled-up mail votes until Election Day. Minnesotans can apply for an absentee ballot on Nov. 2. Politicians want to experiment with mass mail voting, but without making the concessions to reality that are evident in the West. There’s still time for Pennsylvania to learn from better examples.
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Appeared in the October 14, 2020, print edition.