Making it safe to vote during a pandemic shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But Republicans, including and especially the president, are turning it into one.
This week, the state and national Republican Party organizations filed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order mandating that every registered voter receive a vote-by-mail ballot as a hedge against the likelihood that the coronavirus will still be circulating in November (though in-person vote centers will still be available). No one should have to risk the fate of the many Wisconsin residents who had to cast ballots in the April primary in person. Fifty-two people who participated were later found to have contracted COVID-19.
The lawsuit claims that the governor's emergency authority doesn't extend to setting rules about voting and that only the Legislature has the power to do so. Maybe, maybe not. The governor's emergency authority is so broad and vague that it’s possible a federal judge may agree. But it's largely irrelevant because the Legislature is moving a bill (Assembly Bill 860 by Palo Alto Democratic Assemblyman Marc Berman) to codify the governor's order. And even if it didn't, the vast majority of Californians already choose to vote via mail ballots.
But halting mail ballots is probably not the intent of the lawsuit. What seems more likely is that Republicans are seeding doubts in the legitimacy of California's election returns in expectation of a drubbing in November. That's a game that President Trump has been playing for months, as he continues to falsely claim that mail ballots lead to fraud (drawing his first Twitter fact-check disclaimer on Tuesday).
It's also telling that for all their distrust of mail ballots, Republicans have not denounced the results in the May 12 special election in California's 25th Congressional District, in which all voters received mail ballots at the governor's order. That's probably because Republican Mike Garcia handily beat his Democratic rival, Christy Smith, even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in that northern Los Angeles County district.
It's frustrating that the GOP keeps claiming, with no evidence, that sending mail ballots to voters leads to widespread fraud. The best "proof" they can come up with is that some registered voters have received more than one ballot (including in the 25th Congressional District race). That's not great, but it's not damning either. There are many safeguards to prevent someone from voting more than once or non-registered people from voting at all, no matter how many blank ballots they might fill out. A few states, including conservative Utah, have been conducting all-mail elections for years with few problems.
But what mail ballots might lead to in November, besides providing a safe way for voters to participate in the election, is more losses for California Republicans. Perhaps that's the problem the GOP is trying to solve.