National Voter Education Week is Oct. 5-9, an opportunity to empower voters with the information and knowledge they need to make their votes count. The general election is less than a month away, so the time to separate fact from fiction — especially with regard to mail-in voting — is now.
Sadly, mail-in voting is known more as a political hot potato among hyper-partisan politicos and pundits than as a proven solution to greater voter participation and engagement. As we near one of the most heated contests in history — and during a global pandemic — we must stop politicizing how we conduct our nation’s elections. Not only does it weaken the credibility of our election results, it erodes people’s faith in our democracy.
As Washington’s secretary of state, one of my most important responsibilities — and one I share with my 50 colleagues across the country — is ensuring our elections are safe, secure and accurate. While rules and regulations vary from state to state, our sworn commitment to fair and reliable elections is the same. This year millions’ more Americans will vote by mail, and it is our duty to ensure their votes are counted and their voices are heard.
We firmly believe that Americans deserve to feel confident about the integrity of our elections, and they deserve options this fall. One of these options is mail-in voting. My colleagues and I have come together — from across the aisle and across the country — to assure voters that mail-in voting is not only safe, secure and convenient, but also valid, legal and even healthy.
Mail-in voting has its roots in “absentee voting,” which for decades has allowed the elderly, people with disabilities, and active-duty service members and others who may not have access to a polling place to receive a ballot in the mail and, in turn, send their marked ballots by mail. Today, “universal vote-by-mail” (also known as “no-excuse permanent absentee voting”) allows all registered voters to automatically receive a ballot in the mail and return their marked ballots by mail or ballot drop box.
In Washington, for example, we’ve been doing mail-in voting for nearly a decade. Today every one of our more than 4.6 million registered voters automatically receive a ballot in the mail and have the option of returning their marked ballots by mail in a secure, postage-paid envelope, or placing them in one of nearly 500 ballot drop boxes statewide.
Ever since mail-in voting became state law, we have found that Washingtonians like it. They appreciate the convenience and the time to study the candidates and measures, enabling them to make more informed decisions. Plus, we’ve seen greater voter participation. For example, in the Aug. 4 primary election, nearly 55 percent of all registered voters statewide cast their ballots. This is the highest turnout rate we’ve seen for a primary since 1964.
It’s important to note that this primary election took place during the pandemic — meaning COVID-19 had little to no effect on voter participation. This is proof that voting by mail is safer and healthier: people can vote in the comfort of their homes and cast their ballots without the health risks inherent in crowded, in-person polling places.
Separating fact from fiction is central to our voter-education initiatives in Washington. We encourage people to follow trusted sources — such as the secretary of state’s and county elections office websites and social media accounts — to avoid the misinformation and disinformation that too often gets posted during election seasons.
We also partner with the National Association of Secretaries of State on #TrustedInfo2020, a nationwide effort to put election officials front and center as trusted sources of election information, and we support National Voter Education Week to empower voters with the tools and information to exercise their right to vote.
Though Washington’s story is different from those of other vote-by-mail states, and especially states that still rely on in-person polling places, all of us have an opportunity to innovate and create new processes that will ensure Americans have equal access to fair, safe and secure elections.
This year, more than ever before, vote-by-mail will allow people who cannot vote Nov. 3 — for whatever reason — to cast their ballots with confidence. My fellow secretaries of state and I encourage you to learn more about voting by mail and visiting your respective secretary of state’s website for the latest and most reliable election information. If you live in a state that doesn’t automatically mail you a ballot, contact your local elections official and request an absentee ballot as soon as possible. When you receive it, follow the instructions carefully and fill it out. Then return it as soon as possible.
Voting by mail is voting, plain and simple. It’s safe and secure, and amid a worldwide pandemic it’s needed now more than ever. In many states, the election is already underway; people are casting their ballots now. Don’t wait to make your voice heard. Vote by mail today.
Kim Wyman is the Secretary of State of Washington. First elected in 2012, she is serving her second term. Previously she was Thurston County Elections Director for nearly a decade, and was elected Thurston County Auditor from 2001 to 2013.