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A sensible decision

The Wisconsin Election Commission on Friday agreed to use federal CARES funding to help local municipalities pay for stamps and envelopes needed for absentee ballots in the upcoming November election. The commission also agreed to send a letter to voters telling them how to cast ballots by mail. The exact language of the letter will be hammered out at a June 10 meeting.

This is all good stuff, even if not everybody thinks so.

The state’s April 7 election was a national embarrassment, a disaster. Fearing COVID-19, poll workers in urban areas, such as Green Bay and Milwaukee, failed to work the polls and voters were forced to spend hours in lines to cast ballots in what turned out to be a handful of congested polling places.

That was wrong in every way to Tuesday. We’re cheered, then, that the WEC, while it lacks the power to send actual absentee ballots to voters, will send along funding to help local government handle the extra costs of absentee voting and instruct voters how to vote absentee.

We want as many people as possible to vote by mail or absentee in November. This will help halt the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.

We are convinced of this position having read the research of three UW-Oshkosh economists who say the April 7 election not only caused 71 people to directly get COVID-19, as reported by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, but, after checking cell phone data, that these people spread the disease further in the state.

The economists found that, controlling for demographics and population density, counties with higher rates of in-person voting in April had double the rate of positive COVID-19 tests three weeks after the April election than counties with higher absentee voting. The researchers found that a 10 percent increase in in-person voting was associated with up to a 20 percent increase in COVID-19 positive test rates.

We must not repeat this sad scenario in the fall. It’s wrong that any citizens has to risk his or her life to cast a vote, but doubly wrong to increase the COVID-19 caseload across Wisconsin when there is a practical alternative to avoid this.

Of course, some people disagree. One is Rep. Adam Neylong, R-Pewaukee, who says the commission’s action represents an invitation for election fraud or some other ballot box shenanigans.

“If Wisconsin is going to spend millions more tax dollars on the election, which is what the Elections Commission voted to do, it should be used to ensure election integrity and voter safety at the polls,” he said. “This move by the Elections Commission will reverse the steps we have taken to bolster election integrity, at the taxpayers’ expense.”

We are a bit shocked by such a statement. Does Rep. Neylong really think that the integrity of the state’s elections was not jeopardized in the April 7 voting fiasco?

But we would advise the assemblyman just to relax. We suspect Neyong’s true worry, repeated by President Trump, is that mailed-in ballots will favor Democrats in November and tilt the election away from the GOP.

We think this fear is misplaced. A Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research paper published in May looks at data from 1996-2018 from the three states where ballots are cast by mail. The institute’s research shows that vote-by-mail neither affects party share of turnout nor does it affect either party’s vote share.

Nobody here wants to stop anybody from voting in person. Under current law, this is a person’s right. But we all need to try and eradicate COVID- 19. We thus support the WEC taking steps to make vote-by-mail easier and to help local municipalities handle the increase in absentee ballots.

Editorial by Peter Weinschenk, The Record-Review