PORTLAND, Ore. (NewsNation Now) — Like almost everything in 2020, Election Day was going to be different, as nervous voters pondered the best way to safely cast their ballots during the pandemic.
States offered extensive early voting options, and more than 100 million people took advantage. That’s not far from the total number of voters in the 2016 election.
People lined up for hours in some states to vote in person, and more than 65 million people cast votes by mail.
There’s no uniform election code in the U.S. The Constitution leaves that up to individual states, and there are a number of different rules across the country, addressing everything from how vote-by-mail ballots are requested to how and when they’re ultimately counted.
Five currently use vote by mail exclusively, including Oregon.
“I have been proposing since 2002 taking the Oregon system nationwide,” said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.
Wyden was the first U.S. senator to win office in an election, solely by mail. That was in 1996.
He likes to point out the second senator elected by mail was his former colleague Gordon Smith, who’s a Republican.
“Oregonians said enough of all this kind of partisan finger-pointing and the like, and put it on the ballot,” Wyden said. “And overwhelmingly, Democrats and Republicans said, we liked vote by mail, and that’s why we have it.”
To show how easy it is, Wyden pinned a video to his Twitter page, in which he walks people through the process.
Every registered voter gets a ballot in the mail, and returns it by mail, or in an approved drop box.
But not every state, and certainly not every voter, is on board.
Although President Donald Trump voted by mail in Florida, he has consistently and vigorously questioned the security of the system, saying in one Twitter post, “Mail-in elections are a sick joke!”
The president discouraged his supporters from voting by mail, and it may have cost him in some states such as Georgia. Biden won the Peach State by just more than 12,000 votes.
According to the secretary of state, 24,000 Republicans who voted by mail in the primary didn’t vote in the general election. It was more than enough to potentially swing the outcome there.
Trump remains steadfast in his belief that the mail-in process is fraught with issues and fraud, and that millions of those votes should be tossed out.
To date, the courts have dismissed his cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
In states the president is contesting, election officials have defended the system and insisted that the votes and the outcome were legitimate.
Trump isn’t challenging results in Florida or North Carolina, two states he won. A total of 6 million people in those two states voted early and by mail.
The Supreme Court even weighed in, allowing North Carolina more time to accept and count ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but came in after the polls closed.
Has it become a political issue? Analysts believe it helped Democrats in this election cycle because more of them used it to vote during the pandemic.
President Trump has said if the U.S. switched to an all vote-by-mail system, “you’d never have a Republican elected in the country again.”
Numerous academic institutions, including Yale and Stanford, have studied the issue and their research shows vote by mail is party-neutral. It doesn’t give a clear advantage to either Democrats or Republicans.
What it does seem to promote is voter turnout.
In the 2016 general election, five states, including Oregon, had turnout levels exceeding 70%. The official 2020 results haven’t yet been released.
It took a pandemic, but Sen. Wyden finally got his wish. Millions of people have have now experienced a largely vote-by-mail election.
Despite their legal losses, many Republicans insist the election was stolen and point to vote by mail as a problem.
Either way, Sen. Wyden is promising to move forward with a national vote-by-mail plan.
“I will be introducing my legislation in early 2021 and I expect a lot more sponsors,” Wyden said.
The Oregon senator said “it’ll be a chance to take the Oregon vote-by-mail system national, and make sure that everybody has the chance to vote by mail.”
Wyden said he thinks people will embrace the idea.
“Once you’ve tried vote by mail, and the country now has in a big way as a result of the pandemic, nobody wants to go back,” he said.