Will Voting by Mail Become the Norm in the Future?
In just a few months, Covid-19 has completely changed the way the world functions. Businesses were forced to shut down, and residents were instructed to stay inside to avoid any unnecessary contact with the outside world. While the world is starting to return to normal, there are still many social distance guidelines in place. In 2020, this presents several challenges, including what to do about the upcoming elections.
Many states delayed presidential primaries as long as possible. A few states chose to proceed with the primaries as normal. Wisconsin was the first state to hold an election in the wake of the virus. While the state was able to hold a primary, it is difficult to declare it a success. It came as no surprise that there was a significant increase in the number of voters registering for absentee ballots, allowing them to cast a vote through the mail instead of going to a physical polling station.
The Future of Voting
Even before the primary in Wisconsin, many states were debating over what to do about the upcoming elections. Many states put forth new guidelines, allowing voters to register for absentee ballots. States which require an excuse to get an absentee ballot lifted the restrictions, allowing any voter to cite the Coronavirus as a valid reason to vote by mail. Many states delayed the primary so residents had an increased amount of time to register for absentee ballots.
Even as states are starting to open up, there are still voters applying for an absentee ballot, with some states debating whether to conduct the 2020 election entirely by mail. This has many voters wondering if voting through the mail is going to become the new standard in upcoming elections.
Benefits of Voting by Mail
There are several benefits to voting by mail. During Covid-19, the most prominent benefit is the convenience of being able to cast a vote remotely. Even without the virus, this is a boon for many voters, who often struggle to make it to the polls due to work or family obligations. This also leads to another benefit, not having to wait in long lines at the polling stations. During the pandemic, this is especially important.
When Wisconsin ran the presidential primary, there were few polling stations available. This was due to two factors. One was finding a suitable location where voters could safely practice social distancing while in line. The other was limited staff, with the state having fewer volunteers than previous years because of the virus. As a result, voters who showed up to cast a ballot in person were met with long wait times, with some voters standing in line for several hours before getting the opportunity to vote. The wait times were especially noticeable because of the overall decrease in voters showing up to cast a ballot in person. While many voters come to vote in the primary, there are even more which cast a vote during the actual presidential election, which means the wait times will be even longer.
Disadvantages of Voting by Mail
Voting by mail may seem more convenient and safer in light of the Coronavirus, but there are some notable disadvantages as well. The biggest criticism regarding voting by mail has to do with security. While voter fraud has not been an issue in previous elections, there is no denying it is easier to commit voter fraud by mail. Common concerns include other voters stealing ballots from the mail to cast their own vote, or taking a completed ballot out of the mailbox and throwing it away. There are also some concerns about ballots being sent to the wrong address, or not arriving at all.
While these are legitimate concerns, there are existing safeguards in place to prevent voter fraud from absentee ballots. Voting by mail is not a new concept. There are even multiple states which always conduct elections using mail in ballots. Security experts are concerned there may be an increase in possible fraud due to the number of new voters registering for absentee ballots. However, these experts also believe there is enough time until the elections for states to update their security protocols and prepare for the surge in mail in votes. This includes additional screening and verification to confirm the ballot was cast by the actual voter and not an impersonator.
Another disadvantage with mail in ballots relates to time. The increase in mail in ballots means it will take election officials longer to tally the results. Some states mitigate this by placing a deadline on when absentee ballots are allowed to be sent in, giving officials enough time to count the votes before the main election. However, due to the virus and the increase demand for voting by mail, states are considering rescinding these restrictions. Other states already allow for voters to submit a mail in ballot on the day of the election.
Absentee voting has always been an option, and in most states, voters are not required to provide a reason why they want to vote by mail. Even in states that do require a reason, it is rare for voters to have the request rejected. Because of this, it seems unlikely that voting by mail will become the new norm in elections beyond 2020.