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Election 2020: Vote by Mail?

Election 2020: Vote by Mail?

There is no doubt that vote by mail is on the increase in many states.  With the COVID-19 pandemic making some people reluctant to stand in long lines at polling places and risk possible exposure to the virus, vote by mail seems an appealing solution.  Voting by mail/absentee voting is also an essential part of the elections process for citizens away from home, such as military and overseas voters (1).

No one disputes that these Americans should be allowed access to the ballot box even though they live outside of the country.  What is disputed is whether vote by mail increases instances of election fraud.  This is an important question for the 2020 election cycle, for in the last presidential election, nearly one-quarter of U.S. votes were cast by mail.  This lesson will present both sides of the issue and let you decide if vote by mail compromises the integrity of elections, or if its convenience legitimately increases voter participation in elections.
How does vote by mail work?
According to the Brookings Institution, there are two kinds of mail balloting systems: universal vote by mail and absentee balloting (2).  It should be noted that although every state allows voting by mail, the process of and justification for vote by mail differs from state to state.  In some states, voters must request an absentee ballot that they will then return by mail.  In some states, voters need a valid excuse (such as an illness) to get a mail-in ballot, but other states may mail absentee ballots to every registered voter whether they ask for a ballot or not.

Usually, a special security envelope is provided to keep the ballot secret until it arrives at the election office to be counted.  Local election officials will check the name on the ballot to make sure the voter is registered.  The ballot will not be unsealed until election day when the mail-in votes will be added to the in-person votes.
Vote by mail: risks and benefits
Supporters of the mail-in ballot process say because vote by mail is more convenient, it allows for more voter participation.  Since election day is on a weekday, some workers may be reluctant or unable to take off from work to go to the polling place as this may mean a loss of wages.  Supporters also cite examples of residents of nursing care facilities who wish to vote but who are unable to get to the polling place (3).

Detractors of the mail-in ballot say, however, that the process substantially increases the risk of election fraud.  They cite cases of election fraud involving mail-in balloting as evidence that the process is open to being highjacked by dishonest candidates or outside forces such as foreign governments.  To underscore this argument, the conservative Heritage Foundation maintains a database of recent U.S. election fraud cases (4).  Supporters of mail-in voting, though, argue there is no evidence that voting by mail results in significant fraud.  As with in-person voting, the threat, they claim, is infinitesimally small (5).
Vote by mail is popular among Americans
A recent poll showed broad public support for allowing mail-in voting to be a part of the election process.  Among Democratic voters, support for mail-in balloting is very strong, but Republican voters are evenly split on the issue (6).

Take some time to visit the web resources listed in this lesson, or do your own search, and decide for yourself where you stand on this issue. You can also try your hand at the practice questions and the accompanying worksheet.



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