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EDITORIAL: Stop GOP war against voting

York Dispatch Editorial Board

No American should be forced to choose between their right to vote and their health — or, even worse, their life.

In Pennsylvania, thankfully, they don’t have to, even with the coronavirus pandemic closing down much of life as we know it.

Not only has Gov. Tom Wolf wisely moved back Pennsylvania’s primary from April 28 to June 2, but the state allows mail-in balloting.

More:Pennsylvania lawmakers vote to delay primary election

More:Wisconsin voters forced to choose between health, democracy

More:Sunday update: 14 new cases of COVID-19 in York County

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Along with its franchise-ensuring partner, the absentee ballot (for voters who are ill, disabled or out of town), mail-in ballots can be requested by anyone in Pennsylvania, for any reason. Voters simply need to make sure they’re registered and get their application in by the deadline (May 26 for the primary).

This is an especially valuable tool given that other measures taken by Wolf in response to coronavirus concerns, such as allowing for consolidation of polling places, may well make for longer lines at ballot boxes.

So, especially during times of public health crisis, mail-in ballots make sense, right?

An election official cleans a voting booth before a person votes at Riverside High School, in Milwaukee on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. The Wisconsin primary is moving forward in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic after Gov. Tony Evers sought to shut down Tuesday's election in a historic move Monday that was swiftly rejected by the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the end of the day. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)

Not to Republicans.

Like seemingly everything else under the sun — not the least of which is the coronavirus itself — mail-in balloting has become a subject of partisan division.

While Democrats like Wolf take steps to ensure that all citizens can safely exercise their right to vote, too many of their GOP counterparts continue to do everything they can to inhibit voting — including insisting voters head to the polls during the current pandemic.

That was the case in Wisconsin last week after the Republican legislature blocked efforts by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to ensure sheltering-at-home state residents could safely make their voices heard. The legislature — arguably the most gerrymandered in the nation — refused to mail voters ballots at home, scoffed at moving the date of the April 7 primary and appealed the governor’s emergency order to close the polls.

Astonishingly, but not surprisingly, that appeal was upheld by the right-leaning majorities on the state and U.S. Supreme Court. 

In sum, conservatives on two courts — meeting remotely because of the health crisis — forced Wisconsinites into long lines amid a deadly pandemic at the few voting stations for which there was staff (Milwaukee, which usually has some 180 polling locations, had five). 

It’s outrageous but this is the extent to which Republicans will go to suppress voter turnout. And the worst may be yet to come.

FILE - In this March 10, 2020, file photo wearing gloves, a King County Election worker collect ballots from a drop box in the Washington State primary, in Seattle. But the 2020 presidential election is creeping ever closer, and there are no signs yet of pandemic abating, nor any word on when Americans on orders to stay home can resume normal life, and so lawmakers are trying to figure how to allow for voting in a world where face-to-face contact causes anxiety at the least, and sickness and death at the most. (AP Photo/John Froschauer, File)

With no way of knowing how persistent the pandemic may be, there have been calls by voting rights advocates and lawmakers to act now to ensure mail-in voting is in place for November’s elections. 

The concept is hardly novel. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — already hold mail-in elections as a matter of course; they send every voter a ballot. Other states, like Pennsylvania, allow voters to opt in. Such measures need to be in place in all 50 states in short order.

But that’s not likely. A number of Republicans lawmakers, along with President Donald Trump, believe the more Americans who vote, the less their chances for victory. The president said as much on Twitter last week:

“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. … (It) doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” 

Trump claims without proof (because there is none) that mail-in voting is somehow rife with fraud. It’s not. It’s also not a political benefit to Democrats. (It is, however, how Trump himself voted in 2018).

Republicans need to overcome their reflexive opposition to free and fair elections. Recent history is replete with voter purges, ID laws, diminished polling places and other gimmicks to suppress voter turnout. That’s bad enough in normal times. It’s indefensible in the midst of a deadly, highly contagious viral outbreak.

There’s an expression used to encourage voter turnout: Vote like your life depends on it. Voting itself, however, should not threaten voters’ lives.