The new normal: voting by mail

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Kim Muir, the Madison County Clerk, demonstrates where to drop off a ballot or an absentee ballot request form. Photo credit: Charity May

Many people have concerns about mail-in-voting and are worried about the higher traffic of mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also a concern because the mail-in ballots might mean the election results are not immediately announced.

Hans von Spakovsky, from Heritage.org, worries about the higher rejection rate of mailed-in ballots, bringing up an example from Paterson, New Jersey.

“In the Paterson case, election officials apparently rejected 1 in 5 ballots for everything from signatures on the ballots not matching the signatures of voters on file, to ballots not complying with the technical rules that apply to absentee ballots,” von Spakovsky said.

Von Spakovsky said these problems occur because, unlike at the voting booths, when a person fills out a ballot at home they don’t have an election official to answer questions.

During the last couple of months, President Donald Trump expressed concerns about the safety of voting by mail for the upcoming election, calling it a “whole big fraud,” and saying that millions of ballots have been sent out erroneously.

The U.S. Postal Service urges voters to use their local resources to find information on processes, rules, deadlines and policies in order to make sure voters are filling out ballots correctly.

This is not the first time mail-in voting has been used on a large scale in a major presidential election. Studies about the 2016 election found that 16 states cast more than 50% of its ballots by mail.

Many politicians fear mail-in voting because it seems to favor the other side of the political spectrum.

According to brookings.edu, “Republicans fear mail balloting will increase votes for Democrats. They worry that individuals who are part of groups that typically vote in lower numbers will cast absentee ballots because of the ease of doing so. This includes young people, low-income people, minorities, and those without access to transportation.”

And yet, according to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), there is justified concern that Democratic-leaning voters may be disadvantaged through vote-by-mail systems because it favors the elderly, who generally vote Republican.

According to SIEPR, vote-by-mail increases voter participation and doesn’t give an advantage to either party.

A 2012 study by News21 found that voter fraud is not as widespread as people think it is. Time.com writes that states, which have already used the vote-by-mail system, reported few fraud cases.

Mail-in voting is different in every state, especially during the pandemic. A voter requests the mail-in ballot from their local county clerk’s office. Voters can find information about mail-in voting here.

“We try to make it as secure as we can,” said Madison County clerk Kim Muir. “We put a label on them and the voter has to sign. We have registration cards on file and we can compare that signature to what we have on file.”

One important thing to remember is that voters must be registered before requesting a mail-in ballot, Muir clarified. This protects the ballots from voter fraud, but it can also cause problems.

“A lot of students will request a ballot and then we find out that they’re not registered and we have to send out a letter and it’s a big process,” said Brandy Moor, the Madison County election clerk.

Another important thing for voters to pay attention to is making sure they have the right address.

“The students need to know that if they are still living in the same apartment complex, but say they move apartments, from Apartment 1 to 2, that they have to re-register,” Moor said.

The Postal Service takes extra consideration to deliver mail-in ballots to the right person and ensure a safe voting process.

“The post office won’t forward if they see it’s a ballot. Rather than forward it, they send it back to us so we know they’re no longer registered at that address,” Muir said.

According to time.com, it’s important to request your ballot at least 15 days before the election, and mail the ballot at least a week before the state’s election deadline. Voters can also request and return ballots early, depending on the state’s regulations.

“I guess our last words would be vote early,” Muir said.

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