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Ensuring safe and secure voting

Ensuring safe and secure voting

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{byline}{&by1}By The Richmond Times-Dispatch

Voting is a right, not a privilege. And casting a ballot — that most fundamental exercise of American citizenship — should be as accessible as possible.

And in this age of pandemic, voting safely should not be an issue. Voters shouldn’t have to potentially forego a trip to crowded polls to cast ballots in person if they don’t feel secure because of the highly contagious coronavirus.

So we urge the General Assembly, during its special session, to pass measures proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam to make it easier — and safe — to vote in the Nov. 3 election.

“[W]e need to continue to make it easier to vote, not harder. Voting is fundamental to democracy,” Northam said in a virtual address to the legislature’s money committees.

During the special session, lawmakers will focus on the budgetary impact of COVID-19 on the state. A key component of that is election security during a global pandemic. The integrity of our elections must be protected.

Northam’s proposals include language that would expressly allow localities to set up drop-off systems for absentee ballots — either boxes or staffed locations — and require the Virginia Department of Elections to create security standards for the process. More than 30 states now permit voters to deposit their ballots in strong, tamper-proof drop boxes, according to the League of Women Voters.

The governor also called for $2 million to pay for prepaid return postage for all absentee ballots sent out for the Nov. 3 election.

We have questions about another proposal that would allow voters who cast absentee ballots to have the chance to correct them if the error would lead to their vote being discarded. How would this work? What sort of safeguards are in place to ensure the integrity of the ballot? Oregon, one of five states that conducts voting entirely by mail, has an 88-page manual with explicit instructions for a multitude of scenarios and procedures. Will Virginia follow this example?

Virginians have more voting options this fall. They can cast ballots at the polls. Or, under a new law passed this year by the General Assembly, they can vote in person at their local registrar’s office starting 45 days before Election Day. They also can request no-excuse, absentee ballots by mail, which will be sent to voters in mid-September.

And mark your calendars: Election Day will be a state holiday this year, so for many Virginians, there absolutely is no excuse not to make their voices heard.

The Postal Service has said it would halt administrative and policy changes until after the November election. Politics shouldn’t derail the mail: The job of the Postal Service exceeds the safe delivery of ballots — everyday needs such as lifesaving medications and checks arrive via the mail to Americans. That should not be disrupted.

The value of funding mail-in-voting is only as good as the rate of return and the validity of the ballots received.

Applications for absentee ballots by mail for the upcoming election are surging in the commonwealth. November’s election will far surpass totals from the spring’s municipal elections and congressional primaries. Virginia does not have a precedent for how much to spend or how to organize election safety around mail-in-ballots. We know the moment calls for safety and security.

The question is: What kind of timeline and controls are necessary to ensure mail is an effective option, and the money to implement it is well spent and executed?

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Ensuring safe elections in November, when Americans will decide on a new president and numerous congressional seats, should rank as a top priority for lawmakers — especially amid uncertainty facing the U.S. Postal Service.


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