President Trump has gone from publicly fretting about vote-by-mail fraud to declaring he doesn’t want anyone to vote by mail, even though he votes using an absentee ballot. Washington’s secretary of state is determined to change Trump’s mind, as well as the minds of many of her skeptical fellow Republicans.
Washington voters have voted universally by mail for nearly a decade, says Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who was elected in 2012 after serving as Thurston County’s elections director and auditor. It works, she says, because security controls are in place that “inspire confidence in your harshest critic.”
In an interview on KNXX in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Wyman said, “You know, when you’re sending a ballot to every single voter in your state, you have to have some really good security controls and fail-safes on the backside so that those voters aren’t disenfranchised because they made a mistake and so they can have a confidence their ballot wasn’t canceled by someone who wasn’t eligible.”
“My goal would be to actually make the President of the United States believe that elections can be run securely in a vote-by-mail environment,” she added. “But it’s a heavy lift.”
Even though she doesn’t think every state has the infrastructure to conduct secure vote-by-mail elections, Wyman has been talking with Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren about bipartisan congressional efforts to promote vote-by-mail in this fall’s general election.
“What I’ve been encouraging is for Congress to work together,” Wyman said. “We have to put partisanship aside, put the country’s interests ahead, compromise and come up with methods that are going to empower states to be successful this fall. Each state is going to have its own path, because a state that has 2 or 3 percent absentee ballots is not going to be able to ramp up to 100 percent vote by mail by November, because there’s not enough time.”
In response to a question about the Republican National Committee spending $20 million to oppose reforms including vote-by-mail, Wyman said, “I go on whatever program will give me a chance to have this conversation, and I talk directly to their issues. You’re afraid of double voting. Well, here, let me show you the measures we have in place. You’re worried about people on election day using the new same-day registration law and being issued five to 10 ballots each. You know what? That could happen. It’s just like when you’re to tell if you lose your keys, they give you another key. They could give you five keys. Only one will work. We actually built a voter registration system that allows for same-day registration and builds in that security measure. So even if county auditors issue three ballots in three different counties, they have a system now to talk to each other ‘live-time’ and they know which one is the live ballot and which one can be counted. They will actually hold the other two and make sure they’re not counted.”
Wyman described the 2016 general election as a “big lift” because of Russian interference. She believes the 2020 election will be an even bigger lift. “You add in COVID-19, which completely changes the way elections are run. At the most fundamental level, how are we going to staff them? Our average election worker in Washington state is 70. That’s true across the country. So, these are the highest risk group of workers. We’re going to lose anywhere from half to two-thirds of our workforce just because of social distancing and their unwillingness to come into a public place. So how are we going to mitigate that?”
One way that states are mitigating the loss of older, higher-risk election workers is to reduce the number of polling sites, she explains, which opens up more troubling questions of reduced voter access.
The good news, Wyman says, advanced communications allow election officials from across the country to get on a with an hour’s notice video conference call to discuss issues and share best practices, including for vote-by-mail. “We couldn’t do that four years ago. We couldn’t do that a year ago. The power of communication has helped us share best practices, lessons learned for vote by mail and absentee balloting.”
When asked what allows her to sleep at night, Wyman said, “The thing that soothes me back to sleep is that this country’s elections rest in the hands of about 10,000 elected officials like me, who are either appointed or elected. And they make a commitment to uphold their state laws and constitutions and the laws and Constitution of the United States. I know commitment and professionalism is going to matter in this moment when all eyes are turned on us. We are ready for it and are going to do everything we can to communicate with the public what’s happening and why.”
“Our job is to inspire confidence, so the losing team believes they really lost,” Wyman said. “That’s a high bar, and we’re going to get there.”