What Exactly is Mail-In Voting?
Not every American can make it to a polling booth on Election Day. Mail-in voting is an alternative. It’s a part of the voting process that protects parents, workers, and anyone else who isn’t available on a random Tuesday afternoon. It ensures that people don’t have their vote taken away from them due to inconvenience.
Mail-in voting comes in two flavors: absentee voting and mail-in voting. They’re… basically the same. Mail-in voting is exactly what it sounds like: voting through the mail. Absentee ballots are just a more specific version. Those ballots can be requested when a voter knows beforehand that they’ll be unable to vote in person AND they’re a resident of a state without universal vote-by-mail.
This arbitrary distinction can be explained by the way that Americans vote. States run elections. Each has a process that looks similar but no two states do it exactly the same way.
In fact, there are five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah — that exclusively conduct their elections by mail. Many states offer “No-Excuse Absentee Voting.” If you want a mail-in ballot for any reason, you get it. A few states are more strict. Unless you have a good reason, you better head to the polls.
Vote-by-mail has become controversial in recent months for one reason: President Trump. There’s not much of a “let’s hear both sides out” perspective on this. Voter fraud is exceedingly rare in mail-in voting. Ballots are sent to registered voters and require a signature. They’re often tracked with bar codes and use specialized paper. In the 2016 election, 1 in 4 ballots were cast by mail. It’s safe.
Donald Trump disagrees. He has tweeted that mail-in ballots will be “substantially fraudulent.” He sometimes makes the distinction between absentee ballots and universal vote-by-mail. It’s an unfounded argument. Both versions have a high level of scrutiny and no evidence of fraud. And, unsurprisingly, Trump himself votes by mail.
It appears that the real pain point with vote-by-mail is that the GOP believes it will result in higher turnout for Democrats. Support for mail-in voting polls more highly with liberals than conservatives. However, in terms of election outcomes, studies show that neither party has an advantage with mail-in voting.
I want to be absolutely clear here. Vote-by-mail is a longstanding American practice that dates back to the Civil War. The Heritage Foundation, which argues that mail-in votes are dangerous, can do little more than cherry pick the few instances of bad behavior, like a woman who registered her dog to vote. Let’s keep it simple: THE MORE PEOPLE WHO VOTE, THE BETTER.
However, let’s not delude ourselves about our election practices. Mail-in voting is not perfect. An NPR analysis found that more than 65,000 absentee and mail-in ballots were rejected for tardiness in the 2020 Primary Elections. Ballots may also be rejected due to an non-verifiable signature or incorrect personal information. Mail-in voting shifts responsibility to constituents to be careful and timely.
COVID-19 is resulting in huge spikes for mail-in voting. Most states are shifting their policies to expand mail-in voting access. California is switching to universal vote-by-mail: every registered voter will be sent a ballot. Many other states are allowing coronavirus to be a reason to requesting an absentee ballot or fully switching to No-Excuse Absentee Voting. Some states are doing nothing. Texas, among others, is not planning on changing their voting practices. That makes voting harder and dangerous. Battles are being fought nationwide over the issue. There have been 163 lawsuits filed in 41 states in response to COVID-19’s potential effects on voting.
There’s one last issue here. Mail-in voting requires… mail delivery. That means the United States Postal Service (USPS) is instrumental. Unfortunately, they’re going bankrupt. There’s a legal battle between Congress and the Trump administration about how much money to give them and what strings to attach. That’s not good, obviously.
It gets worse: the USPS has a new Postmaster General. Louis DeJoy, a mega-donor to the GOP and Trump himself, is the latest unconventional appointment. He’s already instituting cost-cutting measures, including reducing overtime, that will result in slower mail delivery. In response, the USPS says: REQUEST YOUR BALLOT EARLY.
The 2020 Election forecast is unstable. COVID-19 threatens in-person voting. Vote-by-mail has become a political issue. Mail delivery is looking increasingly unreliable and late ballots simply won’t be counted. Yikes.
What can you do?
REQUEST YOUR BALLOT NOW. Follow that link to find out how your state is handling vote-by-mail this year. BE EARLY. Request and return your ballot as soon as possible. Encourage your friends and family do to the same.