With the onset of coronavirus in 2020, many states in the USA are debating the use of vote-by-mail, for not only will it prevent the spread of the pandemic, but it will also be much easier to conduct. But, with its advantages come the disadvantages too. Using a method like vote-by-mail can open up a Pandora’s Box on how many states are willing to use it- how many mailing ballots will be there, and the bigger questions of what are the consequences of such a system along with the corruption that might inevitably come with it. There is a lot at stake that has to be discussed before vote-by-mail comes out for the general public, and most importantly it needs to be discussed as a potential alternative to normal voting for the upcoming Presidential elections.
How Many Vote-By-Mail States Are There In The USA?
The National Council of State Legislatures has chalked up a map that shows the areas/states which practice/are about to practice vote-by-mail. There are 34 states along with the District of Columbia which allow their voters to file for absentee ballots, and there are a further 11 states who have eased up the process of requesting absentee ballots for the primary election as coronavirus still continues to ravage the country. With fears always on the surface regarding a future second wave of COVID-19, vote-by-mail seems to be the only plausible option for most states to conduct their elections. For long lines, and extensive waiting might increase contact affliction- something the government doesn’t want at all. If that does happen, vote-by-mail states might simply extend vote-by-mail for the general elections too. Considering states set up rules about voting, they can easily change it with a bill passed in the legislative assembly and then signed by the Governor.
How does vote-by-mail work?
In certain states that have enabled vote-by-mail, citizens have to mail, or go online and ask the election authorities for an absentee ballot. In several states, the individual has to give a valid reason- such as being sick or being out of town on the day of Election. But recently, states have decided to send absentee ballots to every citizen in their state which they can fill if they are not willing to vote in the ballot boxes. This is called No-Excuse Absentee Balloting, and more states are transforming their elections into this- for it is much more convenient, and registered voters aren’t asked intrusive questions.
When the voter makes their request to the local authority, they have to prescribe their name and residential address. The local election authority would then send them vote-by-mail, which would consist of two envelopes- one sealed envelope that keeps the vote private, and the other envelope that covers the ballot paper and sealed envelope. The registered voter has to sign the second envelope before sending it- as a guarantee against tampering.
After that, the election authority collects the envelopes and check the names of the registered voters with their voters’ list. Post that, they remove the second envelope containing the secret ballot of the voter which they then add on to the ballot list of all the other voters who decided to vote in person. On the day of declaration of the results, all the votes would be counted (in person and vote-by-mail) and the final result declared.
What are the political consequences of vote-by-mail?
There is a growing fear amongst Republicans that Democrats would be receiving more and more votes through vote-by-mail. This is because they believe that voters who don’t really vote but vote for the Democrats would opt for vote-by-mail due to the simplicity and ease of it. And these voters usually involve people from the margins- low-income people, young people, minorities, and the like.
But there is a group that will benefit heavily from vote-by-mail- the senior citizens. Although they have the power to skew the very face and nature of GOP, they are unable to vote due to several issues like inability in transportation, inability in travelling in mass transits, or are sick and incapacitated. Now, the senior citizens can definitely ask for absentee ballots and exercise the rights given to them by the Consitution.
Interestingly, Republicans have won overwhelmingly in districts that have a vote-by-mail structure of elections. In the California Elections of 2020 for Congress, the Republicans in fact won a seat that was previously held by Democrats. And this was simply possible because the Republicans ensured that vote-by-mail was being followed in all the districts. Yet, there has been a study that researched the nature of elections in states like Washington, Utah, and California to find out that the states didn’t really have power on any one side during the elections- even if it were held via mail. And the data was collected from every election from 1996 to 2018.
Does vote-by-mail increase electoral fraud?
If a particular candidate believes that fraud has been committed and the elections have been tampered with, they can officially file a lawsuit. It helps if they have evidence for the same, for then authorities would be able to check up on the evidence and decide whether the accusations of fraud are justified or not. And if the evidence proves to be sufficient, a judge can easily indict someone on mail ballot fraud. It is to be noted that it is a criminal offense to tamper with vote-by-mail, be it forging names or stealing ballots.
There have been reports that state how it isn’t exactly easy to fraud vote-by-mail, due to the security arrangements in place. To make sure that the vote isn’t forged or someone isn’t tampering with it, the authorities first deliver the envelope to the residences of registered voters. After that, the vote is securely placed in with a signature that is unique to the individual. And then, the vote is deposited in the proper mailing ballot box following which the authorities check if the votes came from the registered voter. In case someone might feel hesitant about a particular vote they can match the signature to confirm the case.
And if that weren’t enough, it also gets really difficult to tamper vote-by-mail because a voter can’t request for the ballot to be sent at a different location from the address that is kept with the authorities. Also, there is no way of knowing when the local election authorities of vote-by-mail states would give out their ballots, for they start sending as soon as people request for them- which can be weeks before the election day itself. The biggest deciding factor- this isn’t the first time such a system is going to be set up- armies have forever used vote-by-mail due to their deployment and there have been no complaints of fraud or subterfuge.
How popular is vote-by-mail with voters?
Although voters are largely silent about it, parties, especially the Republican Party is exceedingly growing concerned about the prevalence of vote-by-mail. In fact, a court order to issue absentee ballots to all registered voters in California was challenged by the party because they believe it would be unconstitutional, and question the very integrity of an election.
As far as voters go, they are pretty fine with vote-by-mail. In fact, most would prefer it over conventional voting due to the freedom to vote at their convenience, and not having to stand in long queues. According to a survey, 59% of the population would love to have vote-by-mail for it not only safeguards someone’s health during a pandemic, but it also saves a lot of time.
And with the present world environment being extremely dangerous for voters to go out and vote, vote-by-mail might be the only way to ensure that the Presidential Elections occur without a catastrophe.