Mike Mrowicki: Now more than ever, we need free, fair and secure elections

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The health and safety of Vermonters is the top concern of us all — including those of us who work in government and set policy. That includes the health and safety of voters, and those counting votes for our upcoming elections in August and November.

With elections on the horizon, keeping our elections, free, fair, accessible and secure has been and will continue to be, the primary concern of election officials. There is an emerging understanding that not knowing what can happen between now and election time, mail-in voting is how best to address the health and safety of voters, and those counting votes.

So, why are there questions about this?

Primarily, because the current president has cried fraud, and his party has promised to spend up to $20 million to fight against mail-in voting.

Others see this as a thinly veiled effort to suppress the vote nationwide.

Voter suppression efforts in 2016 were successful when people of color and other marginalized communities voted in significantly lower numbers. It all adds up to trying to make our November election look like the recent Wisconsin primary. In that election, considerations for COVID-19 were requested and denied by their Republican majority state Supreme Court.

Despite that, Wisconsin voters were not to be denied.

They turned out to vote, with the sum result being both a primary election settled and the flipping of a Supreme Court seat from a Republican Trump supporter to a Democrat. Another result, unfortunately, is that, to date, at least 50 people in Wisconsin have tested positive for COVID-19, traceable to standing in line to vote. That's what we want to prevent in upcoming elections.

It's not like voting by mail is new. Military personnel have used voting by mail since the Civil War. Increasingly over the last decade, voting by mail has been used by states like Oregon and Washington — and by both those whose age or infirmity limits their ability to get out and vote, those who will be away during the election or just find it the best option to exercise their franchise of voting.

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And, our town clerks do an amazing job of handling, sealing, checking off, securing, counting and reporting all votes to the state. Our town clerks take this work very seriously.

States that have primarily been using voting by mail report that problems are rare. The Brennan Center of New York University Law School has been tracking election security for decades, and their voluminous, up-to-date research is available at their website. (As opposed to an older report often quoted, from 2005, that included former president Carter). Recent offerings on keeping our elections secure show more concerns about Russia hacking our elections than mail-in voting.

Another incident often quoted is an isolated one in North Carolina's Ninth District. There, a Republican political operative hijacked votes and tampered with ballots. Anyone thinking this is common should think again. Or, sit down with a local town clerk and question their dedication and record on secure elections, if they think it's possible for tampering to occur here.

And, a reminder regarding that "attempted " election fraud in North Carolina: It didn't work. They got caught. And, the election was subject to a re-vote to make sure it met the criteria for a fair election. The system worked.

In Vermont, our Secretary of State Jim Condos has worked hard with his staff to be up-to-date on best election practices, especially during the COVID-19 emergency. Vermont is in good shape, mainly because we use scanners, not voting machines, that can't be hacked. There is a paper ballot, and should there be any discrepancy, we can always go back and count the paper.

Present Trump and his local supporters can try and impugn the integrity of Vermont elections, but that is an insult to the democratic process and our hard-working town clerks and election officials. These feeble attempts to suppress the vote will have no fertile ground here.

The legislature is working on a plan to provide every Vermonter with a mail-in ballot for November. If you want, you can also order one now for the August primary, by calling your town clerk or visit the secretary of state web page at https://sos.vermont.gov

Who knows what will happen with the virus between now and November? Let your elected officials, including Gov. Scott know, mail-in voting is how best to keep voting safe and secure during this time of COVID-19.

State Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D, serves the Windham 4 District towns of Putney, Dummerston and Westminster. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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