The coronavirus pandemic has presented a number of challenges throughout the United States, as local, state, and federal governments scramble to address a threat that is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Social distancing has become a necessity and is one of many ways Americans are sacrificing to combat the spread of COVID-19.
While it’s reasonable to eliminate going to bars, restaurants, or crowded events from our day-to-day lives, voting does not have to be sacrificed — nor should it be. Voting is a fundamental right for Americans and foundational to our form of democracy. Like grocery stores or pharmacies, voting is essential both in times of tranquility and crisis.
The recent postponements of presidential primaries across the nation underscore the seriousness of the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. My colleagues in those states, and every state that has a primary approaching, are faced with balancing public safety against ingrained American liberties such as the right to vote. These decisions are incredibly complex and require thoughtful consideration. However, there is a viable solution: mail ballots.
Just weeks ago, Colorado held a Super Tuesday presidential primary, and had the largest percentage turnout of voters in the nation of any primary held so far. Of all the ballots returned, 97.4 percent were done so via mail or by dropping them off at a ballot drop-box. That’s more than 1.7 million people who participated in Colorado’s record-setting primary without having to interact with anyone in casting their ballot. Without realizing it, Coloradans have been practicing social distancing in elections long before the term was even coined.
Colorado has a long history of mail ballots. Our election model, which includes both mail ballots as well as in-person early and Election Day voting, was instituted in 2013. Since then, we have perfected our election model to one that consistently leads the nation in voter registration and turnout. Moreover, mail ballots are a secure voting method. In a time when foreign countries try to undermine our democracy, having a paper trail and a ballot secure from hacking is essential.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, numerous state and local governments have reached out to my office seeking advice on implementing mail ballots. And we are eager to help. Other states are realizing that the Colorado election method works. When more states increase access to voting, it’s good for our democracy. Under present circumstances, this is even more true.
Time is of the essence. To ensure the integrity and confidence of our electoral system during a time of crisis, our elected officials at all levels of government should strongly consider following Colorado’s lead by adopting mail ballot systems. Our democracy simply cannot afford to wait.
As a nation, we must rise to the challenge and ensure that every eligible American who wants to help choose our elected leaders is able to do so. Not only is it feasible for states to implement mail ballots before the 2020 general election, it’s now morally imperative.
Jena Griswold serves as Colorado Secretary of State; she is the youngest Secretary of State in the nation, and just the 10th woman to be elected to Colorado’s current statewide constitutional office.