Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla will speak on the final day of the Democratic National Convention to reassure voters about the safety of mail-in voting as debate rages about the Postal Service, the recent actions of Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and whether universal mail-in voting plans in some states could put election security at risk.
As secretaries of state, Padilla and Benson are tasked with running their states’ elections, and both have taken actions to encourage voting by mail. In Michigan, Benson is mailing postcards to 4.4 million of her state’s voters who were not already set to receive mail-in ballots letting them know they are eligible to vote absentee. And California will send every registered voter a mail-in ballot for the upcoming presidential election.
“Excited to take the [virtual] stage during the @DemConventionThursday night to speak about the fight to protect voting rights in 2020,” Benson tweeted Monday. “Fellow SOS @AlexPadilla4CA and I will call on every citizen to do their part to ensure every vote is counted and every voice is heard this fall.”
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According to The Detroit News, Benson and Padilla will counter a point repeatedly emphasized by Republicans, including President Trump, that there are distinctions when it comes to types of vote-by-mail systems.
“There is absolutely zero difference between voting by mail and voting absentee,” Benson will say, The Detroit News reported. “Millions of Americans vote absentee and have for decades. Donald Trump, his family, his staff: They all vote by mail. In fact, states like Colorado, Utah, and Oregon have been voting by mail for years. Republicans and Democrats agree that it’s safe.”
There are, of course, distinctions in mail voting. In Benson’s state, for example, voters need to request a mail-in ballot in order to vote that way, which is why her office is sending millions of postcards to Michigan voters after earlier this year sending out absentee ballot requests. In Padilla’s state, voters will not need to request a ballot. California will automatically mail it to them.
Trump and Republicans have said that absentee voting systems where a voter must request a ballot are more secure because elections officials are not simply sending millions of ballots to voters who might have moved, or could have even died. Democrats have countered that studies show almost no evidence of substantial mail-voting fraud in American history, while Republicans argue that recent anecdotes about mail-in voting during the pandemic have shown potential problems — including in California, which rejected 100,000 mail-in ballots from its primary election this year due to problems like missed deadlines and non-matching signatures.
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Some states have successfully conducted elections in the past with universal mail-in voting like the system California is using. But there is an unprecedented movement pushed by Democrats, aiming to keep voters in their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic, to make such voting a nationwide norm.
Meanwhile, controversy on mail-in voting has ratcheted up in Washington, D.C., as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is calling members back into town to vote on legislation that would mandate the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) keep up its level of service from the beginning of this year. Actions by Postmaster General Louis Dejoy, ostensibly in an effort to cut costs for the post office, have been blamed for slowed down mail delivery, leading to condemnation from lawmakers and a hearing scheduled for Friday, at which DeJoy will appear to answer questions.
“The assault by President Trump & his mega-donor Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on the Postal Service threatens lives, livelihood & life of our American democracy,” Pelosi said this weekend.
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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., shot back: “Democrats have no shame. They are pushing conspiracy theories about the USPS to undermine faith in the election and distract from their own failures.”
Secretaries of state like Padilla and Benson, usually lower-profile figures during normal political times, have seen their jobs increase in importance as states have been forced to make on-the-fly changes to their elections during the pandemic. That reality is reflected in the fact the two officials are appearing on the final day of the Democratic convention, in the same broadcast in which presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden will accept his nomination. They’ll use that platform to push a message that Democrats have framed as critical to both the public health and the health of the republic.
“Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, California voters will not be forced into choosing between exercising their right to vote and protecting their health and that of their loved ones,” Padilla wrote in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. “As California’s Chief Elections Officer, I want to set the record straight: vote-by-mail is proven, secure, and the safest option for voters this year.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.