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As Trump Falsely Claims Fraud, Experts Laud Voting By Mail As Pandemic Deepens

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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is expected to prompt many states to use mail-in ballots this November. Voting by mail is already common in the Mountain West, though President Donald Trump continues to falsely claim it leads to rampant fraud.

Utah and Colorado automatically mail out ballots already. Idaho and Montana conducted their first all mail-in elections during the primaries this spring. And the rest of the region allows absentee voting without giving a reason. 

"There's been a number of states that have been doing this for several years, and they've not encountered major problems," said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. 

A recent vote-by-mail explainer by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University says the threat of fraud is "infinitesimally small." While experts have noted that mail-in voter fraud is likely higher than in-person voting, the amount of fraud is so small that the difference is nearly statistically insignificant. 

And voting by mail tends to boost turnout without favoring either major party, according to a recent study by Stanford University researchers who examined voting data from Utah, California and Washington

"Public opinion polls show that mail-in balloting is very popular with the general public because people see it as a way to vote while still protecting their health," West said. "So there's a lot of sign that people like it and will take advantage of it if it's available in their state."

Voting by mail does, however, threaten to disenfranchise Native American voters, as the Mountain West News Bureau has reported.

West also noted that widespread voting by mail could delay results beyond election night as states work to tabulate ballots – possibly even days. And some believe that in itself could feed the president's claims of fraud.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.