US President Donald Trump speaks on small business relief in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on April 7, 2020. - Trump met virtually on Tuesday with executives of US banking giants to discuss boosting relief for small business, banking sources said.
Trump and Democrats fight over mail-in voting
03:08 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Alyssa Milano is an actress, producer, activist and hosts the podcast, “Alyssa Milano: Sorry Not Sorry.” Follow her on Twitter @Alyssa_Milano. The opinions expressed here are her own. Read more opinion at CNN.

CNN  — 

Donald Trump made it clear from the beginning of his presidency that he’s willing to undermine US election results and make it harder for people to vote.

After he won, he made ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims about illegal voters allowing Hillary Clinton to beat him in the popular vote – even though he won the White House in the Electoral College. He launched a sham commission to examine voter fraud, then disbanded it when it didn’t find the evidence he wanted. And now, as Americans look to ensure they can vote safely during this Covid-19 crisis, he’s come out against vote-by-mail – even though he himself has voted by mail.

Alyssa Milano

To back him up, the Republican National Committee has said it will spend $20 million to fight lawsuits aimed at making it easier for Americans to cast their ballots this year.

We need to be clear about what this is: voter suppression. It’s one of the only tools in their campaign toolbox – and like the Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin who forced an in-person primary without proper protection – Trump is willing to make voters choose between their health and their vote.

It’s outrageous and deeply cynical. And frankly, Republicans in Washington are also wrong about the facts.

Nearly 60 million Americans voted early or by mail and absentee ballots in the last presidential election. Five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah – conduct all-mail elections. Oregon has done so for nearly 25 years. Members of our military have voted through the mail for over a century and a half.

States with vote-by-mail have elected both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, was the first senator elected in Colorado following the state’s decision to vote entirely by mail.

Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee are in office due to millions of vote-by-mail ballots in their home state of Utah.

Vote-by-mail is safe, time-tested, and secure – and doesn’t benefit one party or another, no matter what Trump says.

With a second wave of the virus expected to be even more devastating this fall, the urgency to implement options like vote by mail is increasing. Instead of wasting time jamming through more radical, anti-choice judges, Senate Republicans should side with House Democrats and support important voting reforms. The states must act too.

First, Congress must give states the funding they need to ensure they’re providing their voters with as many safe voting options as possible. The $400 million for elections that Democrats negotiated in the CARES Act is a good down payment, but it’s far from sufficient.

Elections experts and administrators have said Congress should pass at least another $3.6 billion to implement options to keep people safe.

If members of Congress can create a $500 billion corporate bailout, surely they can spend $4 billion to bail out our democracy. Congress should also specify that states need to expand vote-by-mail and early voting options to all registered voters, as proposed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and organizations like Let America Vote.

Second, states need to begin preparing now. Fear of Covid-19 should be considered a legitimate reason for voting absentee in states that require a reason. Election administrators should include paid-postage return envelopes with absentee ballots and provide secure drop-off locations for them. With voter registration drives on pause due to social distancing restrictions, states should allow online voter registration.

Finally, even with vote-by-mail, there are many people who prefer or need to – or example, those with disabilities or those who have limited access to mail service – vote in person.

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    States should expand early voting opportunities to reduce crowding at polling places on Election Day. Local election officials must maintain secure, accessible in-person polling locations. They need the funds to buy cleaning supplies to wipe down voting booths and ensure poll workers have proper protection.

    These are common sense changes that have broad support among Americans – despite political party. But in Washington, and some state capitols, Republicans, who have been making voting more difficult for some groups of voters across the country for years, are trying use this crisis to suppress voter turnout even more by not supporting a vote-by-mail option. They think having this option would hurt them in elections – promoting the idea that only Democrats benefit from higher voter turnout. It’s typical of their underhanded and cynical approach to politics. But deadly pandemics shouldn’t be an excuse to keep people away from the polls.

    In these uncertain times, when kids don’t know when they’ll be let back in school, parents struggle to balance working and distance learning, families are unsure when they’ll be able to celebrate milestones like weddings and graduations, and everyone is worried about protecting their health, voting should be easy. We have the tools and experience to do it.

    While it feels like much of our lives have been put on pause for the past few months, our democracy can’t be. We’ve held elections during the Civil War and Great Depression, during the 1918 flu pandemic and following natural disasters. We can come together and do it during this crisis too. Let’s get past the partisanship and ensure access to our democracy while keeping people safe.