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Voter Education: Mail-in Votes

Posted on June 26th, 2020 by

As primary elections continue during the pandemic, there’s been lots of discourse about mail-in voting or absentee voting. We’ve talked about absentee voting before, and how you can request an absentee ballot in Maryland right on the Board of Elections website. I just did it this morning and it took about five minutes to fill out the application. Of course, it may not be easy for everyone to request an absentee ballot as you may need to provide an excuse, you usually need to have a state-issued ID ready to fill out the information, and more. If you are unsure how to request your absentee ballot, visit Vote.org which has a page dedicated to helping people access their absentee ballot.

In this black and white image, an older, white man steps out of a polling booth, which has curtains he's pulling aside for privacy.

Voting in person is still risky, especially as voting sites become more crowded during this important election year. JMM 2012.054.140.041

Voting by mail is slightly different than absentee ballots. When a state or jurisdiction decides to use vote by mail, as Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii do, it means that all 100% of the ballots are mail-in ballots, sent to voters’ addresses. As election officials and leaders grappled with the challenges of voting during COVID-19, some have chosen to do mail-in votes, as Maryland did for the primary election. This quick change in plans did cause some delays and issues, but it allowed voters to safely cast their ballots without overloading polling centers, as other states experienced over the past few weeks.

Outside a bus, two women dressed in nurse uniforms help an older woman get to the bus.

Getting to the polls can be difficult for some people. Here two nurses help a Levindale resident onto a bus that is shuttling people to the polling site during the 1968 election. JMM 1997.134.452

Voting by mail or voting at home as the practice is called in certain states is a reliable and accessible way to vote. Despite accusations that voting by mail leads to a rise in voting fraud, there is no more fraud than there is among in-person ballots, and these instances are easily identified. (In fact, voter fraud is a pretty rare crime overall. You can view the Heritage Foundation’s research on voter fraud to see the numbers they’ve collected of actual convicted instances of voter fraud). Rather, voting by mail has actually led to higher turnout rates, as states with the policy in place have experienced. In this report by America Goes to the Polls, about the 2018 midterm election, they found that the states with vote-by-mail policies had some of the highest turnouts in the country.

Part of this may be due to the accessibility of voting by mail. You don’t need to take time off work, you don’t need to leave your home and fight traffic to get to the polls, you don’t need to wait in line. And these issues that prevent people from voting in person disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. So, it makes sense that the states that enacted vote-by-mail had higher rates of cast ballots, as the policy solves many of the problems that people face.

This image shows Fallstaff Middle School cafeteria where a polling site is set up. There are some people sitting at the tables to check in voters and some people signing in to vote.

Low voter turnout in the US is a common problem for each election. The bottom of this photo has the note “Fallstaff Middle School – a scarcity of voters”. A lack of voters can be because of voter suppression, people are unable to access voting places, or due to apathy. JMM 2012.054.140.016

Voting by mail doesn’t directly affect election results either, other than encouraging more people to vote. As evidence, such as the work done by Standford University researchers, voting-by-mail does not actually favor one political party over another. The only change it brings is allowing more accessibility to vote for everyone, raising participation. Well, the other change is that it can actually save voters money, but otherwise, it is a safe and reliable way to vote.

A crowd of people stand outside glass doors and windows. Many of them are knocking against the windows with their hands.

On Tuesday, 6/23, voters in Kentucky were locked out of a polling place, despite waiting in line. They knocked on windows and doors, demanding that the election workers “Open that door.” Eventually, they were allowed to vote by an injunction filed by Democratic Senate candidate Charles booker.

As more states experience issues such as long lines, absentee ballot mix-ups, and limited polling places, all things that cause voter suppression, it’d be worth investing more time and money in reliable and safe ways to vote, especially as the threat of coronavirus is far from over.


 

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