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States prepare for voting by mail as Election Day approaches

Despite the postmaster general’s recent testimony to Congress affirming USPS’s ability to handle mail-in voting in the upcoming elections, President Trump has continued to attack the validity of some ballots sent by mail. Audrey Kline, National Policy Director at the National Vote At Home Institute in Denver, Colorado, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the history of voting by mail and planning for states adding it this year.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mail-in voting is not new in the United States. What is new is the possibility that most states will offer it in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Even with the postmaster general's testimony that the postal service will be able to properly handle all the ballots, the president's continued attacks—without evidence—on the safety and security of voting this November is taking a toll.

    I spoke with Audrey Kline, national policy director at the National Vote at Home Institute in Denver, Colorado, about the facts and the history of voting by mail.

  • Audrey Kline:

    I think it's really important to start with understanding that the printing after a request of a ballot, that is the responsibility of an election official and then the delivery of the ballot is the responsibility of the USPS. But to understand the scale of the United States Postal Service, you have to understand that they're moving 450 million pieces of mail every day. So 150 million mailbox ballots, in theory, if everyone were to vote a mail ballot on the same day, it's still just not enough to overwhelm the system. We have other sorts of structural problems that organizations such as my own are working to help work through.

    So that could be the process from when our voter requests the ballot. How do you process that in those internal systems more efficiently, and then how do you get that ballot out to the voter more efficiently? But most importantly, how does a voter get it back to the elections official efficiently? If you are requesting too close to Election Day, your best option might not be the USPS. You might be looking for some sort of a drop off option or possibly being able to take it to a vote center or a polling place.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I think it's important to point out that this is not the first election with mail-in voting. I mean, we've had some experience with this, some states more than others.

  • Audrey Kline:

    Certainly, we estimate, and it's kind of hard to track, but we estimate that over 250 million mail ballots have already been voted in this country over the past decade, maybe two. Twenty-four percent of people voted a mail ballot in 2018. This is not new. And if you start looking sort of towards the West Coast, if you take Colorado, my home state, and you look west of it in 2018, 69% of people voted by mail.

    When you're looking across the country, you see a patchwork of election laws and the people who implement those laws. And it can be a vastly different experience if you live in New York vs. California.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Any concerns on what Congress is trying to do in order to safeguard the USPS? What are you looking for?

  • Audrey Kline:

    I think that my organization is primarily looking for funding and stability and helping election officials plan forward for what Election Day is going to look like. We're coming very close to the place where some states are going to start sending ballots in September. And so being able to accurately talk to voters about what to do with their ballot or how to get one, having some stability around how that works is really important.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What is the distinction between an absentee ballot and a mail-in ballot?

  • Audrey Kline:

    Functionally, not very much. It just depends on where you live. Some states call it absentee. Some states call it mail-in. And some states actually have both in an effort to work around some technicalities and maybe their constitution. But functionally, these ballots are all processed the very same way. They have much of the same security and request sort of infrastructure.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And what sort of challenge does the pandemic present in all this?

  • Audrey Kline:

    It depends on where you're trying to vote from, honestly. Like I said, I'm based here in Denver, Colorado, and we've been voting by mail for a very, very long time. So my voting experience in both the Super Tuesday primary and then also we had a state primary in June where they didn't look any different than regular elections.

    But if you start looking across the country to places like New York, Kentucky, Georgia, they're places where people are rightfully concerned about their safety in going to a place that might be crowded. So everyone is looking for these options that other states have been proactively giving to their voters and they want it. So it seems voters understand that they could have a ballot just mailed to them and they could just mail it back or turn it in themselves. You're seeing people think of elections a little bit differently. And it's kind of the way the people on the West Coast have been looking at it for a long time.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Audrey Kline, national policy director for the National Vote at Home Institute. Thanks for joining us.

  • Audrey Kline:

    Thank you very much. Really appreciate it.

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