The Nation and the World

Mail-in voting: all you need to know

With the Democratic Party calling for its utilization and the Republican Party remaining strongly opposed, mail-in voting has become quite controversial. The controversy is not stopping Dana Hall, however. A survey sent out to eligible voters in the Dana Hall community shows that approximately 60% will be casting their vote by mail. French teacher Ms. Mary Potter says that while she “was totally planning to vote in person on November 3rd … I sent away for a mail-in ballot in September because that is such a big deal this year and it seemed important to be part of that movement.” 

The Dana Hall voters who are voting in person rather than by mail cite a range of reasons. For example, Mr. Eric Goodson, a teacher of AP US History and Western Civilization, says, “So, I am probably going to vote in person this year, but I’m going to vote early…. I just moved to a new town and I’m trying to find my way around, so I want to vote in-person to learn where my local polling station is. Voting early is an important option for me because I can fit my voting into a busy teaching schedule and also avoid crowds of voters on November 3rd.” Ms. Heather Panahi, a teacher of Comparative Politics and African Studies, feels that voting in person is a way of participating in history: “I love the entire election process…. Voting is a privilege. We need to treat it as such. And so, I will be walking into my polling station on Nov. 3 to make my mark on history.” 

In the past, the only way to vote by mail was through an absentee ballot, which requires the voter to state a specific reason or excuse as to why they cannot vote in person on Election Day. Absentee voting has been practiced in America for quite some time. The first widespread instance was during the Civil War, so soldiers away from home could still cast their votes for the election of 1864. 

It was not until the late 20th century that states started to offer voters the option of an absentee ballot without stating a reason. In 1978, California became the first state to allow voters to apply for an absentee ballot without providing an excuse. Oregon held some of the first entirely mail-in primary elections in the 1990s and has remained a vote-by-mail state since the year 2000. Other states, including Hawaii, Washington, and Utah, have been conducting mail-in elections for years. According to Time Magazine, one in four voters used a mail-in ballot to cast their vote in the 2016 presidential election. Before 2020, “29 states and Washington DC allowed for ‘no excuse’ mail-in absentee voting, and 16 allowed voters to cast a ballot by mail if they had an excuse.”

The concept of mail-in voting may not be new, but the upcoming presidential election amid the coronavirus outbreak has made the system more relevant and a heated subject of debate between the American political parties.

Even before the threat of a global pandemic, the Democrat Party pushed for the option of mail-in ballots as a way to increase voter turnout and make voting more accessible to all citizens, especially marginalized groups. Now that in-person voting could put voters’ health at risk, some Democrats argue that the national option of a mail-in ballot is an essential alternative to casting one’s vote at the polls on November 3rd. Senator Bernie Sanders expressed his concern, urging states to implement mail-in voting this year: “God forbid that this pandemic extends month after month after month after month and that people are unable to vote in the fall.” The idea that there will be a severe decrease in voter turnout in the upcoming election because of the pandemic is a real fear among members of the Democrat Party, who see mail-in ballots as a possible solution to avoid a significant drop in the polls.  

On the other hand, some members of the Republican Party are skeptical of mail-in voting. President Trump has been especially vocal about his opinions on the topic. He believes that the widespread use of mail-in ballots would mean “[we’d] never have a Republican elected in this country again” and would result in “the greatest rigged election in history.” Some members of the Republican Party agree that mail-in voting will disadvantage Republican candidates and make the results of the upcoming election more susceptible to voter fraud. 

While the reduced security of a mail-in ballot can be cause for concern, several studies have debunked the idea that mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud. According to MIT political scientists, out of 250 million previous mail-in ballots, only .00006% of them were fraudulent. Scholars at Stanford’s Democracy and Polarization Lab analyzed the effects of a vote-by-mail system. They concluded that it does not provide one political party with an advantage over the other. Ellen Weintraub, an election official, reassured voters in a tweet saying, “We have voted by mail safely and securely since the Civil War. Some say, irresponsibly, that it will lead to a rigged election this year. There’s no basis for this conspiracy theory.” Experts agree that mail-in voting is more vulnerable to fraud, but that it is typically fraud on the part of corrupt campaigns or election officials, not voters. 

However, President Trump remains wary. His opposition to mail-in ballots led him to block an infusion of federal funds (a $25 billion emergency bailout) to the U.S. Postal Service. Through the action of slowing down postal services, he wishes to restrict the number of Americans that will vote by mail this upcoming election. This caused outrage in the Democrat community, who view the decision as an attack on democracy and Americans’ fundamental rights, as stated in the constitution. “This is a different form of massive voter suppression occurring in front of our eyes,” says Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia, the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service. 

Ms. Panahi’s decision to vote in-person does not reflect the President’s concerns.  “I will actually be voting in person,” she said.  “This isn’t because of any mistrust in the mail-in voting system, as I have complete faith in our state’s ability to ensure that this election will be free and fair.”

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