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The nationwide absentee voting controversy

By Manasa Sriraj Oct. 21, 2020

Quincy Han Art


As the nation inches towards a historic election day, the COVID-19 pandemic will alter the way people vote this coming election. An unprecedented amount of absentee ballots have been requested in dozens of states, leaving Americans concerned about how these mail-in ballots will be counted, as well as their legitimacy and cost.


“Mail-in voting is essential this year, despite its criticism. Now more than ever, it is important to put safety first,” Freshman Aadish Kumbhare said.


The process of vote-by-mail (VBM) enables individuals to cast votes by mailing them to their county board of elections instead of physically voting. Mail-in voting policies vary by state, ranging from a universal VBM system to requiring applications for absentee ballots. Some states require absentee ballots to be notarized or have a witness signature in order to be considered legitimate, while others require applications with valid excuses.


Regardless of the state-by-state rules, numerous problems are predicted to arise as experts forecast a historic amount of absentee votes. During the 2020 primaries, over 550,000 ballots have been discarded alone, an indicator of what is to come this November, according to NPR. Issues like incorrectly filling out the ballot, circling instead of bubbling and other problems disqualified ballots, but the vast majority were tossed because they did not reach election boards on time. This issue has become a dire concern for many election officials, especially in swing states where the fate of their election comes down to a couple thousand votes.


Problems compound as studies find that mistakes, like incorrect or late ballots, are predominantly found in minority communities who have limited access to instructions and postal services. Political scientist Daniel Smith found that in Florida’s March primary, the majority of rejected ballots were completed by first-time African-American or Hispanic voters, a trend that is consistent with other states. Nevertheless, Politico reports that minority communities still prefer in-person voting over VBM due to greater confidence that their vote would be counted.


Politically, VBM is a contentious issue. Worried about equal voting opportunities and public health in the midst of a pandemic, many Democrats advocate for expanding VBM to include clear, step-by-step absentee ballot instructions for each ballot while pushing for policies that would postmark ballots to be counted up to Election Day. In contrast, Republicans fear a higher risk of voter fraud, a notion widely promoted by President Trump. The Stanford Daily states that VBM increases the risk of blackmail and technical errors, including lost votes, and can facilitate voting felonies.

However, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, there is no evidence that the potential of fraud increases with mail-in voting. Safeguards against fraud have been integrated into the VBM process: for example, candidates who have sufficient proof of fraud can file a lawsuit.


Numerous Republicans fear that increased voter turnout will prove advantageous to Democrats, despite the fact that a Stanford University study found that VBM did not give either party an edge over the other. However, VBM can still be a decisive factor in elections. In the 2016 presidential election, the amount of tossed ballots surpassed the number of votes by which Trump won Wisconsin, opening up the possibility of the state swinging in a different direction according to ABC News.


To carry out the election, the United States Postal Service (USPS) must deliver ballots by Election Day at historic numbers. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that the entire VBM process will cost the nation about $2 billion, demanding a large emergency fund by Congress that faces partisan gridlock and leaves the USPS in financial uncertainty. The USPS has already decommissioned ten percent of its sorting machine and cut overtime to cut costs despite postal workers protesting that such actions could slow down the election process. Even with the lack of emergency funding, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy claims that the federal mail carrier is capable and well prepared to deliver election mail.


“Absentee voting is used by millions every election year with minimal issue, and is increasingly important with the pandemic at hand,” Senior Audrey Lui said.

 

About the Contributors

Manasa Sriraj

Staff Writer


Manasa Sriraj is a freshman at Leland High School and a staff writer. She is a STEM, puzzle, and geography freak and loves torturing her friends by spamming and "Rickrolling" on group chats. Her hobbies include listening to music, playing basketball and the guitar, experimenting with snack recipes (which usually result in messes), and building Rube Goldberg machines and gadgets out of Legos and other regular household objects.

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