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'Helping them go from zero to a hundred': Washington advises states in vote-by-mail transition

Coronavirus has forced many states unfamiliar with the process to expand mail-in voting. Washington state is helping them get their systems up and running.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Right now, only five states conduct all elections by mail: Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii.

But social distancing due to coronavirus is likely to force many others to, at the very least, expand their vote-by-mail options.

That hasn't gone over well wish some voters and politicians accustomed to physical polling places.

"Washington State is so far out in front of the rest of the country that they just can't wrap their brains around it," said Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

Idaho is one of many states that has already declared some elections will be held entirely via absentee ballots. Others aren't ready to go that far, but are expecting a huge spike in absentee voters, not only during the primary but potentially during the 2020 general election. They're all reaching out to Washington for help.

"Between my elections director Lori Augino and I, we've spoken to someone in every single state and Puerto Rico on the subject," Wyman said. "So we're working with them and helping them try to anticipate having a really dramatic increase in their absentee voting."

Wyman says she and other mail-in experts are doing their best to help those states get their systems up and running, but they've got an enormous challenge ahead of them.

"You have to have high-speed sorting equipment. You have to have personnel. And they just don't have any of that infrastructure built up," she said. "It's really helping them going from zero to a hundred pretty quickly."

Doing so will probably require more money from Congress, Wyman says.

That could be a challenge with the president and other top Republicans often attacking the entire concept of voting by mail.

RELATED: Election officials push for mail-in voting during virus outbreak

Wyman says vote-by-mail is just as secure as other forms of voting and has mostly the same challenges .She says "education and transparency" can help bring people around to the idea.

"It's difficult for me when any leader, anyone in a leadership position, starts being critical of the election process and intimating that there's voter suppression or voter fraud," she said. "Because that really rocks people's confidence in the election systems."

If states are able to run successful vote-by-mail operations, it may also result in more states adopting it as their standard.

"I've been saying for the last year or so that within the next five years most western states will be vote-by-mail states," Wyman said. "I think this is just going to accelerate it, and it was a path we were already on."

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