Early and mail-in voting should be promoted even after the pandemic

Expand voices heard on election day

The pandemic has changed several aspects of life. Some things such as remote learning and mask mandates will go away. Others such as remote working in the tech industry will and should persist even after society reopens. One major change that should continue after COVID-19 is the use of early and mail in voting.

The percentage of early voters has drastically increased every year starting at 7% of total voters in 1992 and in 2020 exploding to roughly 60% of all voters. More than 100 million ballots were cast early out of around 160 million voters nationally.

Early and mail in voting is usually done by opening voting booths early or sending ballots to registered voters or those who requested them. Ballots can be dropped off by hand or sent by mail.

Promoting early and mail in voting allows people who normally can’t vote on election day a voice in American politics, makes the process easier for election day voters, and produces a more informed electorate. There are concerns by both the left and right in America relating to election security regarding mail-in ballots, and while those concerns shouldn’t be ignored, they can often be overstated.

For Republican voters and politicians, their main concern with mail-in ballots is fear of voter fraud, whether it be in the form of fake votes from the deceased or ballot harvesting (the mass collection of ballots by a third party that can potentially destroy or tamper with the ballot). However, the actual number of cases of voter fraud are few and the cases of fraud not being caught until after an election are even rarer. 

In fact, the only recent large-scale case of voter fraud was in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district by Leslie McCrae Dowless on behalf of Republican nominee Mark Davis. Dowless, a GOP operative for Davis, was charged with organizing a network of individuals to illegally collect and tamper with absentee ballots in an election in which Davis beat Democratic nominee Dan McReady by 900 votes. The congressional seat was left vacant and Davis was deemed innocent of working with Dowless.

Republicans also believe that mail-in ballots have a partisan advantage to Democrats. Generally speaking, vote by mail is evenly split between both parties. The 2020 election is an anomaly with early voting favored by Democrats by 44.8% vs 30.5%, with the rest being by minor parties and independents. However, this divide was most likely fueled by President Donald Trump, who has spread claims that early and mail-in voting is rife with fraud despite even his Republican allies supporting it even filing multiple lawsuits, which for the most part have been thrown out, to try and remove ballots in swing states that cost him the election.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Democrats worry that mail ballots sent to the United States Postal Service rather than delivered to a drop box will fail to be delivered particularly in urban and minority areas. A myth circulated on social media that in the presidential election, the USPS lost 300,000 mail-in ballots. Actually, the 300,000 ballots lacked delivery scans to speed up their processing. Democratic voters also feared that mail-in ballots postmarked by election day weren’t received until later and so wouldn’t be counted. It’s true that not every state would accept ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 but not sent afterwards, but 21 states and D.C allowed ballots mailed in but not delivered by election day. The Supreme Court has ruled that they can accept the delayed ballots in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Early and mail-in voting options help more people vote and make sure the average voter is making more informed decisions. Counties and states that switch to all vote by mail, such as Napa County or Colorado, universally see an increase in turnout of 5% to 10% compared to the rest of the country.

Early voting and voting by mail allow Americans to avoid crowded lines as the number of polling locations declines, which disproportionately hurts urban and minority communities. Relying on election day voting also hurts working class Americans who are often unable to vote on election day due to their occupation. Out of those who rarely or never note more than 10% listed the main reason as they couldn’t get time off to vote. Early voting options make voting far more accessible to the American public as a whole rather than just those who are privileged due to their race or class. 

One relatively new form of voting is drive-through or curbside voting, which also benefits the elderly and those with disabilities. In Harris County (Houston) alone more than 125,000 people used curbside voting. The county saw record turnout, surpassing its 2016 turnout through early voting alone.

Early and mail in voting options also produce a more informed electorate. A study by Emory University shows that those that vote by mail have more information on what’s on their ballots and also spend more time researching how to vote. Instead of being bombarded with unfamiliar names in a voting booth, a voter who was sent a ballot can research individual candidates and better understand their platforms before submitting the ballot.

Whether it’s deciding a presidential election or the board of a local sanitation district, every vote counts. By increasing early and mail-in options, Americans can create a government more reflective of their views.

There are concerns over mail-in voting from both sides of the aisle, but these fears are often overblown. Elections can determine whether someone has food on the plate, thousands of dollars of debt or not, or a future for economic mobility, so it’s critical to make it as easy as possible to participate in a democracy.