Originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

By Dianne Feistein 

Elected officials always bear a responsibility to ensure that all voters have the opportunity to safely, securely and easily cast a ballot. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, this is particularly true for November’s elections.

That is why it’s concerning that the president and other Republican leaders are attacking California and other states for expanding the safest voting option we have — voting by mail.

Expanding mail-in and early voting will protect everyone’s health during this crisis. It will reduce overcrowding at polling places and allow more voters to safely cast their ballots. So why are Republicans opposed to such measures?

This week, the Republican National Committee sued California after Gov. Gavin Newsom made the responsible decision to send every registered voter a mail-in ballot. That lawsuit was followed by a barrage of tweets from President Donald Trump with the fabricated allegation that the election is being rigged.

This echoed the attacks on Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state for sending absentee ballot applications to registered voters and the president’s threat to withhold federal funding from Nevada if it moved forward with plans for mail-in voting.

President Trump repeatedly cites debunked conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, alleging that mail-in voting would somehow cast doubt over the results of the election. It’s important to note that Republican governors in Georgia and West Virginia haven’t received similar scorn for their efforts to expand mail-in voting.

Simply put, the ability to hold a free and fair election shouldn’t be tainted by political interference and should be made as easy to conduct as possible. And in many cases that will mean more mail-in balloting.

The truth is that mail-in voting has been proven to be a secure way to cast a ballot.

California has allowed mail-in voting for nearly 60 years. Twenty-one states allow some form of mail-in voting and five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — conduct all-mail elections.

Most importantly, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud like the president is claiming. In fact, President Trump’s own administration has shown that to be the case.

After blaming his 2016 popular vote loss on a claim that millions of noncitizens were allowed to vote — which has been thoroughly debunked — the president created a commission in 2017 to investigate voter fraud. Led by then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, that commission was disbanded less than year later without producing any evidence to support the president’s claims.

That echoes the results of a five-year investigation by President George W. Bush’s Justice Department that found no evidence of large-scale voter fraud.

Even the conservative Heritage Foundation has been unable to support the contention that widespread voter fraud undermines the legitimacy of our elections. The organization could only identify 206 instances of fraudulent use of absentee ballots in all federal, state and local elections since 1988.

Experts decisively say that the one thing that limiting mail-in balloting will do is suppress turnout. Rather than attacking mail-in balloting, Republicans should be working with Democrats to expand voting options to ensure every eligible American is able to cast a ballot.

In Wisconsin, we caught a glimpse of the problems that in-person voting will create during this pandemic. Voters, many not wearing masks, were forced in April to stand for hours in crowded lines to vote, risking their lives.

We must to do better this November.

Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, have introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act to expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states during a natural disaster or public emergency.

This common-sense bill would provide 20 days of early voting in all states, require mail-in ballots to be counted if they’re submitted during the 21 days prior to an election and give every voter the option to request an absentee ballot.

Additionally, House Democrats included $3.6 billion in the latest coronavirus relief bill to help states expand mail-in and early in-person voting.

The Senate should immediately pass these bills to help Democratic and Republican governors plan for the upcoming election.

During this health pandemic, we should look for ways to strengthen voting rights, not undermine them. Americans must not be forced to choose between protecting their health and exercising their constitutional right to vote.

Feinstein, a Democrat, was elected by Californians to the U.S. Senate in 1992. She is the state’s senior senator.