Mail voting safe, secure and simple

PHOTO: Chris Phan, Flickr CC-BY
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

The first time I voted in a general election I was lying on a set of dorm room sheets that wouldn’t be washed until spring. Cigarette dangling from my lips, I marked my ballot for Jesse “The Body” Ventura as Minnesota’s next governor. Democracy prevailed.

However you gauge the wisdom of my first ballot, it was cast by mail almost 22 years ago. So were a quarter of all ballots cast in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

Absentee and early voting has been steadily rising for the last 40 years. Both major parties encourage their die-hard supporters to vote early. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington — conduct elections exclusively by mail, sending ballots to all registered voters.

Here in Minnesota “no excuse” absentee voting has been a part of our system for several election cycles. Voters can not only request a mail ballot, but can also go to their county courthouse before the election to cast their ballot early. The votes are then counted with other absentee ballots on Election Day.

Mail voting isn’t new to my neighborhood in rural Itasca County, either. Though my precinct in Balsam still votes in person, smaller townships like neighboring Lawrence vote exclusively by mail. There, election officials mail ballots to all registered voters weeks before the election. This is well-understood by the voters and accounted for by campaigns in their advertising schedules.

All this leads to my latest bafflement about American politics. We’ve all been cooped up for 40 days and 40 nights because of the COVID-19 health crisis. And while conditions slowly improve in the worst-hit areas, the Nov. 3, 2020 election could very well occur during public health restrictions of one kind or another. In fact, we’d be fools not to plan contingencies.

That means vote by mail. Now, not every state has mail voting systems in place. Some, for various reasons, have resisted doing so. But there are many different models for secure mail voting, all of which include measures to prevent fraud or lost votes. In fact, you can look beyond our borders for whole nations doing the same thing. For instance, voting in Australia is mandatory and conducted entirely by mail.

So, if all states started planning right now, we’d easily have a vote-by-mail system everywhere in case we needed it. But that’s not happening.

The issue, like so many others these days, seems to fall along partisan fault lines for no particularly good reason. President Trump stated that if the U.S. voted entirely by mail “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Others of his party echoed that sentiment. And I wouldn’t blame them for thinking so if it were remotely true.

But an April 10 New York Times news analysis by Reid J. Epstein and Stephanie Saul shows that mail voting does not significantly influence the partisan outcome of elections. Not in “red” Utah or “blue” Oregon.

Political scientists found only one significant difference. With mail voting, marginal voters, those who only vote sometimes, vote more often when the ballots are sent to their homes. But, generally speaking, these voters tend to vote the same way as their neighbors.

I would share with you a detailed year-by-year comparison of the voting trends in Balsam Township, where I vote in person, and Lawrence Township, where my country neighbors vote by mail. But it’s so steady and unremarkable that I fear boring you to death.

What’s wrong with eligible voters casting legal ballots by mail during an uncertain public health crisis? And if you have a problem with that, why didn’t you have a problem with people in rural Minnesota doing the very same for several decades? Evidence of legitimate voter fraud must be hiding in the woods with Bigfoot, because I haven’t seen any.

Seems there are two kinds of people. Some want to make it easier for every eligible voter to cast a legal ballot. Others want to make it harder. I don’t trust the latter, no matter their politics.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and is the creator of the Great Northern Radio Show which aired for eight years on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 3, 2020 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.




  1. Deliberate voter suppression goes way back.
    Paul Weyrich, 1980 (youtube) speaking to a conservative group:
    “I don’t want everyone to vote. (Republican) Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
    Paul Weyrich who died at 66 in 2008 was considered the founding father of the conservative movement. 1974 he co-founded The Heritage Foundation and was involved in creating other groups such as American Legislative Exchange Council, The Moral Majority engineering the union between the Republican party and the Christian far right and more.

  2. Just chiming in to defend Bigfoot. Election fraud is indeed fake. Plus, mail ballots seem like a logical response to stop election fraud. The election fraud people should actually want mail ballots.

    If I was smart I would put a word here about how that is ___ . What’s that word? Its like they are saying fraud, but also opposed to mail ballots? Sorta like hypocrisy but not exactly. Hmmmm . . .

    Point is as Seven Fires, and White Buffalo Calf Woman, fulfill – people may learn Bigfoot exists.

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