We are Republicans and Democrats. Vote By Mail Is Essential to Protect Voters—and Democracy Itself | Opinion

On April 7th we got a close-up view of what it's like to vote in a pandemic. Wisconsin voters, many of them wearing masks, waited in long lines at a limited number of polling stations. Many polling places were closed, even more were short staffed, creating confusion for voters. Many voters stayed home, unwilling or unable to risk their health to exercise their right to vote, contributing to low voter turnout and even less representation of the people's will in this presidential election. Now, over 50 voters and election workers who took part in Wisconsin's primary have tested positive for Coronavirus.

Voters should not have to choose between their health and participating in democracy. As states move quickly to adapt to a new COVID-19 environment, expanding absentee voting and vote by mail must be an option.

As the Secretaries of State of Colorado and Washington, we recently participated in a bipartisan roundtable discussion with RepresentUs, a right-left anti-corruption group, to talk about the benefits of vote by mail.

Our message was clear: voting by mail is a safe, secure, and efficient method of conducting elections.

Vote by mail is not a partisan issue. We all want our elections to be fair and to accurately represent the will of the people.

In Colorado and Washington, we ensure our elections are secure, fair and accurate. Both our states check ballot signatures against the registry and notify voters of discrepancies and errors. We use voting equipment that is not connected to the internet, we hold post-election audits, and we built a system to stop fraud and prosecute bad actors. We're not afraid to hold wrong-doers accountable, and it makes our entire system stronger. We take the security of our elections extremely seriously, and can assure you that vote at home increases election security.

Vote by mail not only keeps voters safe in a pandemic, it also leads to higher voter turnout.

Among all states that have held a presidential primary thus far, Colorado had the highest active voter turnout in the nation at 46 percent. On March 10, Washington saw turnout of 42 percent, a whopping 11 points higher than the next highest primary held on that day, even though it was an early epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak at the time. Voting by mail can spare Americans the choice between staying healthy and exercising a fundamental right to vote.

Vote by mail benefits both Democrats and Republicans. A Reuters poll found 72 percent of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—are in favor of expanding voting-by-mail options across the country. Significant portions of the electorate, particularly vulnerable seniors, could choose to forgo their right to vote if they're too concerned for their health to show up on Election Day. Vote at home also benefits rural voters who may have to travel longer distances to polling sites.

Today, voting at home is the default in five states: Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Hawaii and Washington. In all other states, most voters have to request an absentee mail ballot. And in 16 of those states, voters must provide an excuse, such as travel or hospitalization, to even receive an absentee ballot. A handful of states have provided important temporary exceptions in the wake of the crisis, but as it stands now, many Americans will have no choice but to line up at crowded polling locations in 2020 and put themselves at risk, or not vote. This is unacceptable in a country that prides itself on being innovative, adaptive, and fighting for the right of every eligible American to vote.

Congress set aside $400 million to help states expand voting by mail and early voting, as well as increase safety measures. This is a good start, but it is not enough. The Brennan Center estimates we need as much as $2 billion to run free and fair elections in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

States must use these federal funds to expand voting at home for upcoming primaries. Congress should provide more funding so all states can adopt the secure elections solution that has been proven to work in Colorado and Washington.

Voters across the political spectrum deserve to stay safe and have their voices heard.

Jena Griswold (D) is the Colorado Secretary of State. Kim Wyman (R) is the Secretary of State of Washington. Joshua Silver is Director and Co-founder at RepresentUs.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own.