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Could coronavirus have US voting by mail in November election?

Vote-by-mail in Washington has been around for years. (MyNorthwest)

With at least 15 states delaying their presidential primaries over coronavirus-related concerns, could a full-scale vote-by-mail system be on the horizon for November’s general election?

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States like Washington and Oregon are no stranger to the concept, having implemented vote-by-mail systems years ago. It may be a tougher sell in other states though, even with the threat of the coronavirus looming through the summer.

“They want to keep things the way they are, because in their own calculation, it’s to their advantage to keep the system the way it is,” former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

That sentiment was echoed in recent comments from President Trump, who opined that a national vote-by-mail system might mean “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

The basic theory behind that idea is that in general, voter turnout among Republicans is often stronger. Pair that with targeted efforts from the party to close polling places and purge voter roles in key battleground states, and a system that actively expands turnout becomes an even tougher sell.

“I think it’s true in general that the higher voter turnout is, the better it is for Democrats, because they seem to have a larger number of low-propensity voters — the ones who, if they vote it all, will only vote every four years. Republicans, on average, are better voters for whatever reason,” McKenna detailed.

“If you make it easier for people to vote, the idea is that more people who tend to vote Democratic will turn out to the detriment of Republicans,” he added.

Congressional Democrats attempted to kickstart a more widespread vote-by-mail system in the recently-passed coronavirus aid package, with a proposal that would have distributed $400 million to states looking to convert to vote-by-mail by November.

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That money, McKenna theorizes, would have been “a way to encourage some of them to make a move they’ve been reluctant to [act on] in the past.”

“By offering free money from the federal government, it might in fact, encourage some states to move to vote-by-mail that haven’t done it before,” he noted.

That measure ultimately didn’t make it into the aid package, leaving it up to states to find the money if they so choose. And while legally, any state can enact a vote-by-mail system whenever they want, McKenna doesn’t suspect many will want to make the switch.

“I would say probably not — I really think that both parties have entrenched interests in maintaining a system as it’s existed for a couple hundred years in some places.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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