Given the fact that the nation will most likely be dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic well past the upcoming presidential election in November, it is important that the Congress allocate at least $4 billion in federal funding to the states so they can implement a robust vote-by-mail option and other measures to ensure all Americans can safely and effectively vote.
The reasons for this are obvious. Large numbers of people voting in person makes it hard to follow the CDC guidelines on social distancing. Moreover, during a presidential election many polling locations are more crowded than usual and people vote with widely shared machines. At least 50 voters and poll workers who were at polling places during the recently-held Wisconsin presidential primary are now infected with COVID-19.
Not surprisingly President Trump has opposed allowing states to give every American the option to vote by mail. While he claims that voting by mail has a tremendous potential for fraud, he has publicly admitted that the real reason is that he fears a large turnout favors Democrats. But if Trump had not avoided military service in Vietnam in 1968, by having a doctor make a dubious claim that he had bone spurs, he would have known that the U.S. military and their families have been voting by mail in large numbers since the Civil War, that Congress has been supporting it these past 150 years, and that there have been almost no instances of fraud. (Ironically in 1864 the Democrats warned of fraud and called it a scheme by Republicans.)
I have seen this up-close and in person. During my four years on active duty as a naval flight officer in the 1960s, I voted by mail in presidential, congressional, and local elections. Moreover, my colleagues (shipmates) and I would vigorously discuss and debate the issues and the candidates before mailing in our ballots. (When you are deployed you have more time for these discussions.) As a result, I believe our votes were well thought out.
This belief was reinforced during the five years I served as assistant secretary of defense for manpower, installations and logistics in the Reagan administration. During that time, my colleagues and I encouraged and provided assistance to our commanders in the field to help our uniformed military and their families to exercise their right to vote, a privilege they were risking their lives for. And more importantly, we never tried to influence that vote in any way.
These sentiments are shared by such distinguished military veterans as Chuck Hagel — a former secretary of defense, former Republican senator, and Vietnam War Army veteran — retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, a former CIA and NSA director; and retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey. All of these warriors have spoken out against the president’s plan to limit mail balloting.
Moreover, if Trump succeeds in limiting the vote by mail option, it will have an adverse impact on our veterans. As a result of their service, thousands are physically disabled, and others are suffering from diseases as a result of their exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam and burn pits in the wars in the Middle East.
It is important to recognize that mail-in ballots can make a difference in an election and in history. For example, there is a great deal of evidence that by counting mail-in ballots from military people that missed the election deadline for the presidential election in Florida in 2000 President Bush was able to squeak out by a margin of 537 votes to win over Vice President Gore in that state.
For the sake of our democracy and our country, at this time in our history, Congress needs to allocate and Trump needs to support providing $4 billion in federal funding to the states so that all Americans can have a say in how we deal with this unprecedented crisis.
Lawrence Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and served as assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.