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Consider intent, integrity of mail ballots before changing rural precincts

Star Herald Editorial

The Rock County Board of Commissioners will consider the future of mail ballots at their meeting on Tuesday, May 2. And we hope they consider the reasons we implemented mail ballot voting in the first place.
Rock County has been using mail ballots since 2006 when the federal Help America Vote Act required all precincts to make sure all voters can vote with ease, regardless of disability.
It also ensured voters could correct errors that may otherwise void the ballot.
This marked the introduction of electronic voting machines, which immediately recognize ballot errors and allow voters to make corrections.
The machines, which cost $5,000 in 2006, were too expensive for many of Rock County’s small, rural precincts, as was the prospect of making polling places handicap-accessible.
Vienna Township and the city of Kenneth were the first to use mail ballots, and they were soon followed by other rural precincts who opted to give their voters more access to elections without the burden of cost.
Today, 18 of Rock County’s 24 voting precincts use mail ballots, and those who want to vote in person bring them to the county courthouse where all ballots end up on Election Day.
And our Rock County election officials through the years have said mail ballots work: Voter participation increased, without evidence of fraud, and it’s become an accepted and appreciated form of participating in elections.
… Until, of course, last fall.
After a divisive 2020 presidential election fraught with false claims of voter fraud (each solidly debunked in courts of law), the election lies have continued.
As have divisive conversations and bad behavior at the national level (on Jan. 6), and locally.
Rock County election officials told the County Board they were harassed during the November 2022 election and felt threatened by mostly anonymous callers alleging mail ballot fraud.
Commissioners empathized with courthouse election workers and are now considering a return to in-person voting.
… perhaps combining rural precincts to share resources, and possibly assisting with election judge hiring … all good ideas.
… if we have good reason to do away with mail ballots.
But do we?
If we’re changing a process that affects 18 of 24 precincts because several courthouse workers were harassed by a handful of bad actors, that’s not a good reason.
We, too, empathize with election workers who feel threatened, and we’re deeply disappointed that the bad actors were allowed so much influence. … However, it would be more disappointing if the actions of these few resulted in changes affecting so many.
If there are reasons to return to in-person voting, then let’s consider valid informed discussion to that effect (not baseless allegations).
Our commissioners have been seeking input from township officials and city leaders in our rural towns, and many have been clear about wanting to keep the mail ballot system.
But they don’t get to decide; the county commissioners do. And it’s on their agenda Tuesday.
Whatever they decide, if they do take action at that meeting, we hope it’s for the right reasons.

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