Voting In A Pandemic: Is Risking Death A Civic Duty?

I’m informed that one of Trump’s most endearing qualities is that he says out loud what no one else would be foolish enough to admit. One such admission involves voting.

If election day was a national holiday, no Republican would ever be elected again? Because too many people would vote?

But with the pandemic, the concern takes on an entirely new dimension.

On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of voters in Wisconsin will be forced to choose between exercising their constitutional right to vote and safeguarding their own lives, not to mention the lives of their loved ones, their neighbors and poll workers across the state.

There will be few polls open because poll workers, who tend to be old folks, aren’t prepared to risk death for the gig. Are voters? Should they be? On the one hand, they are subject to a stay-at-home order, and yet the state refuses to delay the primary or make an accommodation such as voting by mail or online.

This is insane, and utterly unnecessary. Fifteen states, including four with primaries scheduled for this coming week, have already postponed their elections; several have canceled all in-person voting and are relying solely on mail-in ballots. On Thursday the Democratic National Committee pushed back its national convention, which is scheduled to be held in Milwaukee, from July to August.

It may be that our circumstances come August aren’t sufficiently better than now, or July, and that further changes will be needed, but so what? What compelling need is there to proceed now, to proceed by voting in person in defiance of the sound policy of staying at home and not, you know, risking death and spreading coronavirus?

Republicans insist that widespread mail voting would be an “invitation for voter fraud,” even though evidence suggests fraud is actually lower in states with all-mail balloting. They also argue it would be logistically impossible to print and mail so many ballots before Tuesday. If so, then why not just push back the election, as Mr. Evers has proposed? The answer can only be that Republican legislators don’t want people to vote.

Whether voter fraud is as serious a concern as argued may be a matter for debate, although one might wonder why only the Republicans fear it and not the Democrats. Then again, the claimed fear is that illegal aliens will vote, felons will vote, all the people whom Republicans expect to vote against them will be stuffing the ballot boxes to beat them at the polls.

If that’s their concern, perhaps they would do well to consider why they fear these cohorts, so large they will cost them any chance of winning elections and yet so presumptively inclined to vote against Republicans that suppressing votes is their only response.

It’s not that voting by mail doesn’t have issues, even if it’s used in some states and counties without any particular problem.

Three states, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, now hold their elections entirely by mailedout ballots. So do 27 of the 29 counties in Utah; 31 of the 53 counties in North Dakota; five counties (and growing) in California; and the City of Anchorage where about 40% of Alaska’s voters reside.

Add all this together, and since 2000 more than 250 million votes have been cast via mailed-out ballots, in all 50 states, without a whiff of serious election fraud. That’s one heck of a sample size to overlook in the “I’m worried about fraud and abuse” argument. Also note those states above are red, purple and blue. This is not a partisan issue.

Plus, there is an unspoken concern about people for whom getting off their butts and affirmatively exercising the franchise is too much trouble, but who might be willing to exert enough effort to vote if it’s limited to checking a box and putting their ballot in the mail. If they aren’t sufficiently politically active to go to the polls, should we accommodate the slacker vote?

But these are questions to be raised in the broader context of elections in general, and the issue of the moment is the fear that Republicans will lose if people unwilling to risk death are able to vote.

The point was made explicit this week by Georgia’s House speaker, David Ralston, who opposed a push for mail-in ballots to be sent to every registered voter on the ground that it would encourage more people to vote. “This will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia,” Mr. Ralston said in a local news interview. “This will certainly drive up turnout.”

If driving up turnout is your real concern, then your problem isn’t voter fraud. It’s that people don’t want to elect you. In the universe of possible arguments against voting by mail, there is no worse argument than that.

17 thoughts on “Voting In A Pandemic: Is Risking Death A Civic Duty?


    All US citizens have a social security number.
    The social security system knows if you are a citizen and unless you died within the last month that you are alive and at last 8 years old.
    Wen you come to vote in person or by mail you could provide your SSN and you vote would count if you have not voted in this election.
    Eliminates almost all fraud except ballot harvesting

      1. TOM JOHNSON

        If you collect a vote from someone who would not have voted otherwise, I consider that voter fraud. Vote by mail allows canvassers server weeks to go door to door thru every “friendly neighborhood” to help fill out the mail-in ballot. We have not come too far from the “come vote and I will buy you a scotch” problem.

  2. Chris Van Wagner

    As a Madison, Wisconsin voter, I agree that holding the election is insane. Judge Conley had it right, and spared no one any quarter in his scathing remarks at oral argument on consolidated lawsuits before him seeking to change the election date. But as is often the case in politics, in this moment of middle-school political theater there is plenty of blame to go around. Late this week, very late, Gov. Evers DID ask the legislature to delay the election. And although that came in the wake of his own upbraiding by the judge, it remains unclear that his ask had anything to do with the judge’s ruling. You see, the Dems (including Evers) fought hard for months to keep the Supreme Court of Wisconsin (SCOW) election on the same day as what loomed to be a hotly contested Dem primary; the GOP had tried to move the SCOW election, fearing that a massive Dem turnout for the Bernie vs. Joe Show (Bernie won here 4 years ago in the Peoples’ Republic of Madison) would sweep the left-leaning SCOW candidate into office. But that expected primary turnout faded after Super Tuesday and with it, the parties flip-flopped. The GOP has had its massive 3rd party money ads running night and day in the SCOW race. No longer was this date viewed by Dems as critical to take back a SCOW seat, currently aligned 5-2 for conservatives. Evers’ call for a last-minute “move the election” special session lasted a total of 22 seconds gavel to gavel yesterday between the two chambers. In reality, neither side seems to give a whit about the health risks or the impingement on voting. It has been political football from day one. Judge Conley’s appropriate comments are PR fodder in these pols’ calculations. The Gov could Emulate Gov Cuomo and use widespread emergency authority to order a delay and leave the GOP to react; instead he intends to have the Nat Guard man polling places. What could go wrong? Both sides of this dysfunctional state govt deserve each other, and no doubt Bob LaFollette is turning over in his Wisconsin grave.

    1. SHG Post author

      Cheeseheads. What’s astounding is the sense that Sanders’ motivation of Berniebros to vote is somehow “cheating.”

  3. David

    Is there a constitutional argument against voter ID? The Soros involvement is a hat tip to obvious fraud, you know that.

  4. Warren

    Risking death, really? You risk death by waking up in the morning and getting out of bed. When all this is over whats is going to be interesting are the actual numbers.

          1. Jardinero1

            On the other hand, Covid19 could also be saving lives. About 7000 Americans die every day from various causes. Nearly half of those deaths are from cancer or heart disease. Some are murder and suicide. But a portion of these daily deaths are from mundane activities: 15 to 20 from being at work. 100 to 120 from driving your car. There are about 100 deaths, on average, from trauma not related to driving or being at work. Medical mistakes(a touchy subject in my extended family which includes two MD’s, one RN and two molecular biologists) range from a conservative estimate of 30,000 to a liberal 110,000 per year. Take the low end, and that is 82 per day. In the coming months, many of the aforementioned causes of death will fall. Fewer people are going to work, driving, or engaging in activities likely to cause traumatic injury. Plus, elective surgeries have been sharply curtailed. This will result in a drop in deaths due to post surgical infection(often sepsis and pneumonia, 90 – 150 per day) and medical error. Other categories might rise, like suicide, while homicide may fall. Some of the covid19 deaths will be in patients who likely would have perished from cancer or heart disease, this year, in any case. If I were to wager, then I would bet that the total deaths, from all causes, in 2020, will be less than the total deaths in 2019.

            1. Keith Lynch

              You could make that argument about the 2002 Beltway Snipers. They
              killed 11 and wounded 17. They also deterred a lot of driving, which
              very likely saved more than 11 lives.
              But you can’t make that argument about covid-19. It has killed about
              10,000 Americans so far, and it’s still speeding up. Its daily death
              rate has caught up to that of cancer. By Tuesday it will be ahead of
              heart disease, making it America’s leading cause of death. By the end
              of the week, it will exceed all other causes of death put together.

  5. Guitardave

    I know what the GOP’s worried about. The Russian bots won’t be able to hack the electronic voting machines.

  6. Chris Van Wagner

    FYI the Wisconsin Gov just postponed the election to June 9. He also called the legislature into special session to determine that date or a different one. Must have been studying Gov Mario’s Son. Kicked down the curve a ways for now.

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