It is time for Americans to choose who will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20. It is something Americans have done every four years since 1788.
Because it is presidential election season, we can’t turn on the television without facing a tsunami of ads for and, mostly, against candidates at every level of government. Our mail boxes bulge with letters and flyers, all asking for our vote — and our money.
Our most recent elections have been conducted in the age of social media, which have become a haven for wild claims, bizarre accusations, outrageous allegations, misinformation and outright lies.
Mixed in with the increasing babble are concerns about the way our elections are conducted. This year, the big debate is over people wanting to vote my mail. Four years ago, the discussion was about the little-understood Electoral College after Donald Trump lost the popular vote but still won the presidency.
Such discussions are good. They just are coming at the wrong time.
The time to discuss changing anything about how we vote is when we aren’t in the midst of voting, when partisanship is at its most bitter.
This year’s discussion on voting by mail has taken on an even more urgent tone because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Many people — especially the elderly — rightly are afraid of catching the virus, which so far has killed almost 220,000 Americans. If they can vote at home and return the ballot by mail or in a government-designated drop-box, they would feel safer.
Each state decides its rules for voting by mail. Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii conduct elections almost completely by mail — with few problems and little evidence of tampering.
In those states, every voter automatically receives a ballot in the mail, which can be returned by mail or in designated drop boxes. In-person voting booths are available on Election Day for those who wish to cast a ballot in person.
Beyond that, a plethora of rules in each state govern voting by mail. In Texas, voters 65 or older, those who claim a disability or illness — and fear of COVID-19 is not a legal reason to vote by mail — and those confined in jail but eligible to vote may vote by mail, as can those who are out of the county during early voting periods and on Election Day. Those wishing to vote by mail must fill out a form requesting a mail ballot and return it to the county elections office. The voter registrar then will mail a ballot to the person making the request. The last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot in Texas is Friday.
That ballot must be filled out completely and returned to the registrar with proper postage. In Texas, mailed-in ballots must be postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day, which is Nov. 3 this year, and must be received by 5 p.m. on Nov. 4. If you wait until Election Day to mail in your completed ballot, odds are pretty good it will not be received in time and, thus, won’t be counted.
The rules may be different in other states. And that is the problem. Many people think that anyone who fears catching COVID-19 should be allowed to vote by mail. Some states have said yes, others, no.
Courts have gotten involved and it is hard to keep up with the changes. Requirements in Texas remain unchanged.
Add to all this a president who says, without any evidence, that voting by mail is rife with fraud.
There are too many things to consider to make changes in the midst of the presidential election, even if there is a coronavirus on the prowl. It just causes too much confusion.
The same was true in 2016, when Donald Trump shocked almost everyone by winning the presidency. Sure, Hillary Rodham Clinton received some 3 million more votes than Trump, but she got them in the wrong places. Trump received 306 electoral votes to only 232 for Clinton.
Clinton’s supporters were outraged, many of them demanding that the Electoral College be abolished, or that the states change the requirements for their electors.
Again, it was the wrong time to try to make changes.
If changes in the way we elect the president are needed, they should be considered in non-election years, when passions are lower and slights are less. Nonpartisan commissions — at least as nonpartisan as possible any more — should be named to study all aspects of the potential changes and make recommendations to legislatures or whomever is in charge of elections.
America has put humans on the moon — and may do so again in the not-too-distant future — but somehow we can’t seem to run an election with incontrovertible results, allowing every voter to cast a ballot and then ensuring that each ballot is counted.
Surely that’s an election change we all can get behind
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