By: Elless T.
Elless is a junior in Naples, FL. She has been a member of JSA for two years and currently serves as an activism agent for her chapter.
For many young Americans, the 2020 presidential election will be the first time they can cast a vote. These times are both exciting and stressful. The topic of absentee and mail-in ballots has been an important issue in the media lately.
An increasing number of young people are worried about their health as well as the health of their family members. Mail-in ballots are a great way to exercise your right to vote without putting yourself or others at risk.
An absentee ballot is defined as a ballot that is mailed in advance of an election by a voter who is unable to be present at the polls. While absentee ballots have been a topic of conversation lately, they certainly are not new.
This type of voting has been around since the American Revolution. However, the absentee ballot we know today was first used during the Civil War. During the 1862 midterm elections, Wisconsin enacted the first widespread absentee voting legislation in the country. This law allowed soldiers to vote in their camps without having to return home.
Soon after Wisconsin passed the law, other states followed. By 1864, nineteen northern states had passed some form of legislation allowing soldiers to vote away from home. After the Civil War, absentee ballot use began to include regular citizens. Between 1911 and 1924 45 out of 48 states had adopted some kind of absentee voting.
The most recent legislation regarding absentee ballots was enacted by Congress in 1986. Currently, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act allows for soldiers overseas to vote in elections.
The conversation around absentee ballots can be a bit confusing. Many people use the words absentee ballot and mail-in ballot interchangeably. However, these terms have separate meanings. Although all absentee ballots are sent in the mail, not all ballots sent in the mail are considered absentee ballots.
An absentee ballot generally refers to a ballot filled out by a voter who cannot make it to a voting location on Election Day. Anyone who applies for an absentee ballot must provide a qualifying reason. These reasons are usually specific to the state.
Now, there are instances where the voter does not need to provide a reason. However, these are called no-excuse absentee ballots and are separate from absentee ballots. Currently, this occurs in twenty-eight* states while sixteen* states require voters to give a qualifying reason.
A mail-in ballot is an umbrella term. It is used to refer to any ballot sent through the mail. Depending on the state, mail-in ballots can have different names.
Some examples include an advance ballot, by-mail ballot, mail ballot, and ballots by mail. Although the specifics of absentee and mail-in ballots may differ, they still operate under the same idea.
Voters are able to cast their vote on Election Day without having to be present at a polling station. This idea has become increasingly important as coronavirus cases surge across the United States.
The growing interest in absentee ballots has given way to a surge in media coverage. There is no doubt that this surge has caused the spread of many misconceptions about this type of ballot. Opposers of widespread use of mail-in voting during the pandemic argue that it would be an advantage to one party over the other.
A Stanford study found that expanding voting by mail does not increase the vote share for candidates of either party.
These same researchers also stated,
“Our paper has a clear takeaway: claims that vote-by-mail fundamentally advantages one party over the other appear overblown.”
Another popular misconception about absentee ballots is that they increase voter fraud. This is far from true. There are large penalties in the United States for voter fraud, and voter fraud is incredibly hard to commit. Each ballot is unique to each election. There are hundreds of different ballot styles in one single presidential election. In order to commit fraud, a person would have to copy the ballots' exact size, style, and weight. This would be for just one ballot!
According to the Heritage Foundation, there have been only 204 cases involving fraudulent use of absentee ballots in the past 20 years. Oregon, an all-mail-in ballot state, has only had two verifiable cases involving fraudulent use of absentee ballots in the past 20 years.
The MIT Election Data and Science Lab put out a statement regarding election fraud. They found that over the past 20 years, more than 250 million ballots have been cast by mail nationwide, while there have been just 143 criminal convictions for election fraud related to mail ballots.
That averages out to about one case per state every six or seven years, or a fraud rate of 0.00006%.
In the statement, they wrote, “There is no evidence that mail-balloting results in rampant voter fraud, nor that election officials lack the knowledge about how to protect against abuses."
2020 has been a year of change and adaptation. The coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of our daily lives, but it may also change the way Americans vote. The rules regarding mail-in ballots are not uniform throughout the United States. As stated earlier, some states require voters to give a qualifying reason to receive a ballot. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not included in some states’ qualifying reasons. Different states also have different deadlines and rules regarding mail-in ballots. The links below provide resources to look into absentee and mail-in voting in different states.
There is no doubt that the pandemic will have an effect on voting in the presidential election. Absentee ballots have received both good and bad press. The research has shown that absentee ballots do not increase fraud or favor one party over the other. It is also important to remember that each state has different regulations regarding mail-in ballots.
Some of those regulations may have been relaxed because of the coronavirus. Voting is a civic duty and allows the people to democratically choose who should represent them. However, the health of both the voter and their family is incredibly important.
Mail-in ballots are one way that voters can exercise their rights as safely as possible. However, if you have decided to vote at a polling station, that is completely okay too.
Just make sure not to forget hand sanitizer and a mask.
* Alaska, Arizona, California, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
*Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indianapolis, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia