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How states should prepare for mail-in voting amid COVID-19

Amber McReynolds, CEO for the National Vote At Home Institute & Former Director of Elections for Denver, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to break down the outlook on mail in voting for the upcoming 2020 election.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Well, for those that have not checked the calendar today, I am here to remind you all that the election is exactly three months away. And the debate is heating up not just between the two candidates but rather on mail-in voting. So for more on this, we're joined now by Andrew McReynolds. She's the CEO for the National Vote At Home Institute and the former director of elections for Denver. Amber, thank you so much for joining us today.

AMBER MCREYNOLDS: It's great to be here, Kristin.

KRISTIN MYERS: So I want to start on that news that we heard the other day that the president was going to try and delay the elections. I know that the White House has walked that back a little bit. But in that tweet he had sent out, he said no essentially to mail-in voting, yes to absentee voting. I want to start this question off here on perhaps even my own confusion because I honestly thought they were the same thing. So I'm hoping you can kind of do-- let's start this whole conversation off with a little bit of myth-busting. What is the difference between a mail-in vote and an absentee vote?

AMBER MCREYNOLDS: So fundamentally, they are the same thing.

KRISTIN MYERS: Good. I'm glad I was not incorrect there.

AMBER MCREYNOLDS: Fundamentally, it is the same thing. I will say that there are-- if you look at state laws, there's variance. And sometimes absentee voting is, you know, articulated in a different way when it relates to someone filling out a request where they're out-of-state and they're putting down a different address. So sometimes the states will kind of show that in terms of a variance. But if you look at even Florida, they call it mail in voting. Other states call it absentee voting. Some states call it mail-in voting. Some states call it all mail when they send out the ballots.

So there's really a lot of different messaging, even though fundamentally, the process is the same. A voter is mailed a ballot. The ballot goes through a verification process on the back end. And that doesn't matter if it's absentee or mail-in. It's treated in the same way.

KRISTIN MYERS: So as I mentioned to everyone, but just as a reminder, you were the former director of elections for Denver, Colorado. So I want to continue this myth-busting train because a lot of people seem to say that mail-in voting is not safe, at least in regards to accurately counting someone's vote. So I mean, how much room is there for fraud with mail-in voting? How likely is it that perhaps we won't have an accurate vote count if, you know, all the states say, listen, because of coronavirus we're going to be doing mail in voting?

AMBER MCREYNOLDS: Yeah. Well, first and foremost, voter fraud in a widespread way or wide scale voter fraud is exceedingly rare. And I certainly understand the concern. I understand the question. It's our democracy. We need to make sure it's secure and safe from any bad actor that tries to do something they shouldn't be doing, including foreign adversaries, domestic adversaries, people that spread false information. All of those things hurt our voting process.

And so any time there's a bad actor trying to do something they shouldn't be doing under the law, we need to be able to detect, deter, and hold that person accountable. And with mail-in voting, it doesn't have higher instances of those sorts of issues coming up than in-person voting or other methods. But it is a system. And we need to make sure it's secure. And there's lots of examples and lots of ways that we can actually secure the process.

And many states have those provisions in place to do exactly that. In the states that you have to request an application or request a ballot, you have to fill that out and turn that in. And in the states where you don't have to actually make a request and the ballot comes to you, there's still a very specific process for validating that the addresses are up to date and current. The ballot goes out to those voters at their address. If there's an issue with the address, the ballot comes back in. And then there's a safeguard on the back end with the signature verification process or other verification processes that exist within states.

KRISTIN MYERS: So I imagine all the states right now are rushing to make sure that they can make sure that mail-in voting can happen. What is needed, you know, to really amp up that preparation? What kind of costs are associated with that?

AMBER MCREYNOLDS: Sure. Well, we actually, back in March, right after COVID started spinning up around the country, we put out a vote a home scale plan. And we outlined 10 specific things that states and localities needed to do then and still need to do today to make sure they're ready.

And the fact is and the reality is, and we're seeing this in data around the country, voters are requesting ballots to be mailed to them in extraordinary numbers. So this isn't really even a decision for politicians or for the president or for political actors or anything like that. It's the decision of voters in every single state to decide what voting method works for them.

And so the increase we're seeing, it's being driven by voters. It's being driven by the consumers and the customers that are consuming the voting process. And so given that voters are telling us a very clear story about what their preferences are, we need to make sure election offices are ready. And election offices need funding. Traditionally, elections have been underfunded. And now in a pandemic, those issues of underfunding historically but underfunding now in a pandemic where costs are skyrocketing because of certain adjustments that have to be made with social distancing equipment, all of those things, election offices need funding and support. And they need Congress to step up and do that.

Local budgets are being desecrated across the country due to sales tax revenue and all of those things going down. And so literally, election budgets are being cut today right now. And now we need that supplemental funding from the federal government to make sure that they can actually do what they need to do come November and make sure everybody can vote.

KRISTIN MYERS: Right. Well, we'll have to wait and see, of course, if the federal government is willing to fork over some cash for that to happen. Amber McReynolds, CEO for the National Vote at Home Institute.