With the presidential election less than a month away and the pandemic still going strong, many voters nationwide have decided to vote by mail. According to polling results by Gallup, 64% of Americans support using absentee ballots and 36% oppose with concerns of fraud. Despite public opinion favoring absentee voting, many GOP members, including Trump, believe that this will be a “rigged” election. But, the GOP’s claim is completely false, and Trump’s attempts to prevent a free and fair election are illegal.
“Democracy in the Park” is an effort to increase mailing locations and convenience for voters to drop off their absentee ballots in Madison. Wisconsin’s Republican legislators claim this is illegal, as Wisconsin state law does not allow for it, and the ballots collected through Democracy in the Park would be invalidated. Attorney Misha Tseytlin, representing Republican legislators, said that voters can return the ballots through mail, in person at the clerk’s office or at an authorized in-person early voting location, in authorized lock boxes or at the polls on Election Day.
It is interesting how Tseytlin contradicts herself. If the City of Madison already authorized Democracy in the Park, then whatever locations the poll workers choose are authorized in-person early voting locations, meaning that absentee ballots collected through Democracy in the Park are valid. Secondly, this shows how little Wisconsin’s Republican legislators care about public health and safety.
Most people support mail-in voting because it allows them to practice social distancing while participating in a crucial presidential election. The backlash from the GOP will endanger the health of constituents. When Republican incumbents do not care about voters, they should be voted out of the office.
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Is Democracy in the Park useful or necessary for voters? Absolutely. According to The New York Times’ absentee ballot and early voting tracker, in Wisconsin, 6% of voters requested absentee ballots in the 2016 election, compared to 37% so far this year. Madison is following in Milwaukee’s steps to provide convenience for voters by increasing the number of drop boxes available for absentee ballots.
If Democracy in the Park is declared illegal, this will put enormous stress on the mailing system to deliver ballots in time for them to be counted, especially with Trump’s block of funding to the USPS. If all the ballots from registered voters are not counted for election, how will this be a free and fair election? Is the election only free and fair if it guarantees a win for Donald Trump? This Republican double standard and extorted definition of free and fair elections should be extremely concerning to the voters.
Given the uptick in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, declaring Democracy in the Park illegal would help the pandemic spread within the state because citizens would have no choice but to go into places where they could potentially contract the virus.
With the rapid rise of COVID-19 in recent weeks, Wisconsin’s state government may have to shut down everything once more, further damaging businesses and the economy. More importantly, more innocent American lives will be at risk. This time the loss of the economy and lives will undoubtedly be on the Republican incumbents because of their false claim that mail-in voting is the same as a fraudulent election.
For University of Wisconsin students, Democracy in the Park allows them to vote at a location that is not too far away from the campus. It also allows them to social distance from other voters. More importantly, this also ensures the safety of UW’s faculty and staff members, because if students are safe, they are less likely to spread the virus on campus, in their classrooms or in apartment buildings.
Given the stakes of this upcoming election, there should be more efforts like Democracy in the Park to lessen the pressure on the USPS. As a Pew Research poll from the 2016 election shows, the government has encouraged more and more nontraditional voting methods to ease the difficulties posed by the current voting system. Democracy in the Park is certainly an untraditional way to vote, but it is effective and beneficial to voters.
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Because of President Trump’s block of funding, USPS is facing the probability of many delayed ballots on Election Day, which would cause votes to be unaccounted for. Many believe that this year, voter turnout will increase dramatically, and movements like Democracy in the Park will save voters the trouble of dropping their ballots off at inconvenient locations, and it will ease the pressure that the mailing system faces. This movement would also avoid the issues of possibly delayed ballots, as they will be dropped off, secured and collected immediately.
Therefore, Democracy in the Park should be encouraged because it is convenient for voters and ensures a free and fair election while protecting constituents from contracting the coronavirus. More importantly, Democracy in the Park effectively eases a stressed mailing system and solves the issue of potentially delayed ballots.
Ken Wang ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.