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Voting by mail during a pandemic

| Wednesday, October 14, 2020

As we move into the fall, coronavirus cases continue to rise. The United States is tallying over 45,000 new cases daily. Deaths are expected to reach nearly 400,000 by February of next year, according to latest projections. With the presidential election only three weeks away, it is fairly common knowledge we will still be dealing with COVID-19 on Election Day. How will we facilitate a nationwide election during a global pandemic? With traditional polling places, voters may be discouraged from turning out due to fear of a potential outbreak. 

The most likely contender is mail-in ballots. Mail-in ballot requests are surging in record numbers across the nation in anticipation of the election. In fact, Illinois is already seeing record numbers of requests for mail-in ballots. Sixty-five percent of Americans in a May poll supported mail-in ballots, including 66% of independents. However, President Donald Trump has come out adamantly against this measure. He has made multiple statements claiming mail-in voting would lead to widespread election fraud, even tweeting that mail-in ballots would make November “the most RIGGED Election in our nations history.” Attorney General Bill Barr agreed with the president, suggesting absentee ballots are susceptible to fraud, citing that foreign countries “could print up tens of thousands of counterfeit ballots” to influence the election. Additionally, 53% of Republicans are against mail-in ballots, according to a USA Today poll.

However, these claims of voter fraud and worry of election interference are unfounded and differ starkly from the truth. The secretaries of state from almost 30 states affirmed the integrity and reliability of their state electoral process. Unique security protocols, including signature verification software, registration vetting, ballot barcodes unique to registered voters and other measures all work to limit the chances of voter fraud in any fashion. Additionally, as explained by the Brennan Center for Justice, the use of secure drop-off locations, drop boxes and post-election audits serve to prevent any attempt at interfering with the election. 

In fact, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington have conducted all-mail elections in the past and found no widespread instances of voter fraud “at levels greater than most other non-all-mail voting states.” If anything, this means that voter fraud in a mail-in election is no different than a regular election. Even still, the chances of voter fraud are incredibly slim. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has been recording instances of voter fraud since 1982. In that time, there have only been 200 cases of absentee fraud in all states. The facts show that mail-in ballots are not likely to lead to election fraud. This should remove any worry of misrepresentations in ballot counts or a rigged election. 

Nevertheless, there are still valid concerns about a mail-in election. In many states, absentee ballots are considered an afterthought, too small to sway the outcome of an election. However, the rising number of mail-in ballots due to coronavirus has strained the electoral infrastructure of these states, making it difficult to collect and count these ballots. New York was struggling to count the results of their June 23 primary, where 1-in-5 absentee ballots were expected to be disqualified; 40,000 to 50,000 voters in Georgia who requested an absentee ballot for the primary never received one, according to Georgia House Minority Leader Bob Trammell. Across the nation, we are seeing states that typically do not rely on a mail voting system failing to facilitate the democratic process during this health crisis. Even Michigan, a state that utilizes mail-in ballots regularly on a widespread basis, has clerks saying they will not be able to give election results on Nov. 3. If states do not rectify this and provide election officials with the proper resources and capacity to receive and count mail-in ballots, this can spell disaster for November. 

Additionally, voters themselves need to be aware of restraints on mail-in voting. The tiniest mistake on the forms can lead to one’s ballot being uncounted. Whether it is not signing one’s name enough times, filling in the wrong box or even mailing the ballot late, the slightest error can rob one from participating in the democratic process. If half the electorate votes by mail, it is projected that over one million ballots will be rejected. This is especially true for young Black and Latino voters who are more likely to have their ballots rejected due to these errors, according to Charles Stewart, a political scientist at MIT. I implore voters across the country to be aware of their state’s mail-in procedures to ensure you can effectively participate in the election. Vote.org provides an easy form to request an absentee ballot, complete with deadlines and procedures for mailing your ballot. Additionally, this article outlines how to fill out your mail-in ballot to avoid common errors.

Government officials across the country should be encouraging and providing the means for a mail-in election to accommodate Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the most efficient, reliable and safest method to exercise citizens’ democratic duty while providing for the common welfare and health of our nation. However, for this system to work, the electoral system must be equipped with the proper resources and training. Citizens must also be aware of the deadlines and procedures to vote by mail to ensure the greatest participation among our citizenry.

Blake Ziegler is a sophomore at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He loves anything politics, especially things he doesn’t agree with. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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