Why Mail-In Voting Works


Marena Koenka '21

Peyton Dauley, Contributing Writer

Everyone has heard the rumors surrounding mail-in voting. Doubts about security, fraud, and identity theft have plagued the concept in the months leading up to the anticipated Presidential Election this November. President Trump famously, or perhaps infamously, tweeted the following on July 30 of this year: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good) 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely, and safely vote???”

 There is a lot in that tweet we could discuss. For the sake of time, we’ll focus on the fallacies presented regarding mail-in voting, and why this concept is dangerous for our democracy. As headlines and politicians alike slander the credibility of mail-in voting every day, it is important to remember the significance of this process. It is one that works, and in the age of COVID-19, it is absolutely our safest option to remain active citizens in healthy communities.

 To truly understand why mail-in voting works, one must first understand the process of voting by mail, its background, and what makes it distinctive and controversial. Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Francis Gavin details the process of applying for and sending out, a mail-in ballot on his website. Although the dates and processes vary by state (you can check the requirements for your state at this link), MA residents wishing to vote by mail simply fill out this application, deliver it to their local election office, vote, then return the ballot: either through the mail or via a dropbox.

 Outside of MA, many other states have changed their requirements for mail-in ballot applications amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Brennan Center, twenty-eight states will allow for no-excuse mail-in voting: meaning one doesn’t need to prove that they qualify for accommodation to obtain a mailed ballot. An additional six states plan to have entirely mail-in elections, as reported by the BBC.

 Although these policies may be new, mail-in voting actually has an expansive background. Mail-in ballots were first cast in 1977 in Monterey Bay, California. Since then they, alongside their absentee counterparts, have become even more popular. In the 2016 election, two in five ballots cast were done so either early or via an absentee/mail-in process. Specifically, according to the Brennan Center, 23% of 2016 ballots were mail-in. This number rose to 26% for the 2018 elections, and one can be certain that this trend will continue for the 2020 presidential election.

 With this rise comes intense scrutiny toward the process of mail-in voting from all perspectives. However, these rumors seem to all derive from myth. For example, one of the most popular partisan fallacies states that mail-in voting will lead to party favoring. In this context, this means an alleged more votes for Joe Biden than would have been expected if voting was strictly in-person.

 No evidence has shown that mail-in voting can lead to party favoring. In fact, it has displayed bipartisan neutrality. Republicans have won elections in districts using primarily mail-in ballots, even this very year. This was displayed in California when the GOP obtained a formerly Democratic seat in a special election. The concern Republican politicians seem to have that more individuals will vote who wouldn’t otherwise is twofold: while more (majority Democratic) young people will vote via mail, other populations like the elderly (majority GOP) will also feel inclined to apply for a mail-in ballot. An investigation done by Stanford in April of this year studied the partisan effects of mail-in voting and found that “vote-by-mail has no apparent effect on either share of turned-out voters who are Democrats,” and that overall voter turnout had increased by 2%.

 An additional concern surrounding voting by mail is the supposed higher chance of fraud. However, similarly to party favoring, there is no evidence to support this claim. The only identifiable instances of voter fraud have been incredibly localized, and, even then, it is rare. The Brennan Center tweeted in 2017 that a study of theirs found rates of voter fraud in the United States to be between 0.00004% and 0.0009%.

 Given the circumstances of this year and its general trajectory, I can empathize with anyone who might doubt the credibility of these studies. This can be especially understood in an election that focuses more on mail-in voting than any of its predecessors. However, given these statistics, alongside the security of applying for, receiving, and sending out a mail-in ballot, it can be assumed that voting by mail in the United States is as secure as it can get.

 There are more benefits to voting by mail as well! Aside from a higher voter turnout as discussed above, fairvote.org discusses that mail-in ballots are additionally cost-effective for districts, easier for election officials to conduct, allow voters more time to educate themselves on who/what they are voting for, and they allow districts to maintain a more accurate voter record.

 And of course, we must address the elephant in the room: the global pandemic that has changed all of our lives over the last six months. So much change is occurring in our world, and I would have liked to believe that our elected officials would have prioritized American safety over fear-mongering the general population with falsehoods and obscurities. Given that that expectation apparently cannot be met (might I add, on multiple ends), we must remember the importance of maintaining our civic responsibilities while keeping our communities safe.

 An election in the age of COVID-19 looks like long socially-distant lines, shared pens, understaffed officials, and crowded spaces. While the mission of “flattening the curve” seems to be abandoned by those in government, we can maintain our duties both as citizens and neighbors by maintaining COVID policies while ensuring our voices are heard just as loudly.

 With election day right around the corner, it is important that we remember our responsibilities and the different ways we can go about fulfilling them. It is not too late to register to vote, apply for a mail-in ballot, and let your voice be heard on November 3!