By Monica Parpal Stockbridge
Audrey Kline set out to be a medical doctor. She wanted to help people.
But as it turned out, “Phospholipids were not my thing,” Kline said. Her thing, she discovered when she transferred to Metropolitan State University of Denver, was helping people make their voices heard through the political process.
Kline earned her degree in political science in 2010; she launched her career in the office of Colorado Sen. Cheri Jahn and worked on local political campaigns. Today, she’s the national policy director at the nonpartisan, nonprofit National Vote at Home Institute, where she is working to expand mail-in and in-person voting methods that are secure, safe, accessible and equitable to Americans in all 50 states.
“It’s hard for me personally to think of how many people don’t get to express their wants and their needs to their government because they have kids and they have to work,” Kline said, referring to single parents, low-income workers and others living in underserved communities. “It’s not hard to figure out why people don’t vote sometimes.”
When she took the job in October 2019, Kline and her team focused on how states could be influenced to expand vote-at-home systems in the next five years. But by March 2020, it was clear that Covid-19 would add a huge challenge. Kline’s work immediately pivoted toward educating legislators, media and voters all over the country about vote-at-home systems that could ensure safe, secure voting access in the face of the pandemic.
The work paid off in massive advances in mail-in voting in 2020. Kentucky alone had a 1,000% increase in mail ballots as a percentage of total votes cast. New Jersey jumped from 9% of voters using mail ballots in 2016 to over 78% of voters using mail ballots in 2020. Even states such as Colorado that already had vote-at-home systems saw major turnout increases compared with four years earlier.
Kline is proud of how the mail-ballot model has evolved since she was knocking on doors in the Denver suburbs eight years ago.
“The way that we were able to conceptualize giving people more options from the start and seeing how that has influenced other states is immensely gratifying,” she said. “Millions of people had more access to mail ballots (in November 2020). That’s millions of people who didn’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote.”
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