Explainer: Why voting by mail sparked a partisan battle ahead of the November elections?

WASHINGTON: The campaign to expand voting by mail options during the pandemic has become the centerpiece of a growing political struggle ahead of the November elections.

President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have attacked the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčexpanding postal voting, arguing that it is vulnerable to fraud and openly concerned that an easier vote will harm his party's chances in November.

Democrats and voting rights groups say it is a way to protect voters from the deadly virus, and failure to guarantee that option in the midst of a pandemic will deprive millions of Americans, especially the poor and African Americans who consider themselves more vulnerable to the virus and who tend to vote Democrat.

Turbulent from last week Wisconsin The elections, which took place after Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to delay in-person voting and expand absentee voting, illustrated party division and the growing urgency to find a solution before the US election on March 3. November.

Here are key issues surrounding the vote-by-mail debate.

What is behind the republican opposition?

Republicans say voting by mail is more susceptible to fraud since voters do not have to appear in person at a polling place.

Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they are cheats. They go and pick them up. They are fraudulent in many cases, Trump said in a recent coronavirus briefing, without providing evidence. He acknowledged that he cast an absentee ballot by mail last month in the Florida Republican primaries.

But Trump also expressed what Democrats believe is the main motivation to oppose the vote by mail: it will lead to greater participation that hurts Republican candidates.

Trump told Fox News that a change to facilitate voting would never again elect a Republican in this country.

Trevor Potter, a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission who founded the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, said Trump's reaction was puzzling as Republicans often do well in voting by mail.

Polls show older Americans, those who consider themselves more vulnerable to the virus, are more likely to support President Trump than other voters, Potter said, adding that conservative Utah is one of five states that has voted by mail with little sign of fraud

Is fraud really a concern?

A series of academic, government and news investigations over the years have found little evidence of electoral fraud of any kind. Utah and four other states that vote entirely by mail (Hawaii, Oregon and Colorado) have reported little fraud.

Trump, who has often said without evidence that millions voted illegally in 2016, formed a commission after the campaign to investigate. It was dissolved in January 2018 without finding any evidence to support its allegations.

Election experts say there have been scattered incidents of people collecting and handling absentee ballots in a process known as ballot picking.

The most recent example came in a 2018 North Carolina parliamentary race, the result of which was reversed when it was determined that an operation collected ballots for the Republican candidate.

Arguments for voting by mail?

More than a dozen states have already postponed the primaries or expanded voting by mail to avoid forcing residents to go to crowded polling places.

Voting by mail is not new. A report from the US Electoral Assistance Commission. USA He says the process was used by about a quarter of all voters in the 2018 midterm elections.

Along with the five states that vote entirely by mail, 28 states will allow voters to request a ballot by mail without any excuse in November, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

We are not reinventing the wheel here. This is improving what is already happening, US Senator Ron Wyden, a co-sponsor with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, told reporters of a bill to expand mail voting and early voting to all states. last week.

What are the obstacles?

There are still 17 states like Texas, New York and Louisiana that would need to change their policies to ensure that everyone who wants to vote by mail in November can do so, the Brennan Center said.

It will be expensive. The Brennan Center estimated that the cost of ensuring that voting by mail was available to all voters could be up to $ 1.4 billion, with postage alone costing up to $ 600 million.

Even advocates of voting by mail say states should maintain the option to vote in person, for voters with disabilities, those who need language access assistance or do not have regular access to mail.

What are the key legal battles?

Groups aligned by Democrats and Republicans across the country are already fighting in federal and state courts over whether to expand access to voting by mail and how to do it.

On March 30, 27 New Mexico county employees petitioned the state Supreme Court to conduct their June 2 primary election almost entirely by mail and allow all voters to receive an absentee ballot. State Republicans sued to oppose both changes.

In Texas, they sued the state's Republican leadership in federal court on April 7 to allow absentee voting without excuse. Texas law requires voters to provide an excuse, such as a disability, when requesting an absentee ballot.

In Georgia, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Republican secretary of state last Wednesday in federal court for requiring voters to pay their own postage by mailing ballots and applications in the absence by mail, arguing that was equivalent to a tax. electoral.