WHAT IT IS
- Vote-by-mail or mail-in ballots are grouped under "non-traditional" or "alternative" forms of voting. [National Conference of State Legislatures]
- Mail-in ballots originated during the Civil War. [Pew Research Center]
- All states offer some form of vote-by-mail. The process of vote-by-mail is different for every state.
- Generally, you receive your ballot by mail and cast your vote by filling it out and mailing it back or dropping it off at a specific, secure location. [USA Today]
During the 2016 presidential election:
38 states offer one or more types of non-traditional voting, [Pew Research Center]
3 states conducted elections by mail with no polling locations, [KPCC]
- About 36% of votes (~33 million) were cast in a non-traditional way, [Pew Research Center]
During the 2018 midterm elections:
About 1 in 4 votes were cast by mail. [NPR]
For the upcoming 2020 presidential election:
WHY IT MATTERS
CIVICS: The right to vote was not considered to be a fundamental right by the Founding Fathers, therefore, was not included in the original U.S. Constitution. It only came later through the 15th, 19th, and 26th constitutional amendments. [Encyclopedia Britannica]
Voting is a decentralized system, with states leading efforts on a localized level. Shifting to a federally mandated system poses challenges. [The New York Times]
SOCIAL: Health concerns and social distancing measured caused by COVID-19 have forced some governors to postpone primary elections or increase the vote-by-mail system.
MAIL IT IN!
All political parties benefit from nontraditional voting as it increases access. [NPR]
- In 2016, Republicans used vote-by-mail more than Democrats, [KPCC]
- In 2016, Democrats used early in-person voting more than Republicans. [KPCC]
Active duty military members depend on the vote-by-mail system to cast their ballot while deployed. They have used the system since the Civil War. [NBC News]
Senior citizens heavily rely on vote-by-mail systems, as lack of mobility or means of transportation prevents some from attending physical voting locations. [Pew Research Center]
Many people are unable to take off work to vote. They rely on nontraditional voting to exercise their right. [Pew Research Center]
Increased votes, decreased suppression
Some reports indicate vote-by-mail increases voter turn out and decreases voter suppression. [National Conference of State Legislatures]
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, states were slowly but naturally moving towards increasing nontraditional voting systems or mail-in systems. [Pew Research Center]
President Trump said, "Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they're cheaters." [Reuters]
Read more about the claim of voter fraud here.
Having one rule reduces voter confusion. State-by-state, system-by-system rules create voter education needs that often are difficult to meet. [NPR]
Not enough time
States like Oregon implemented alternative voting in 2000, giving it 20 years to perfect their mail-in system.
States that feel pressured to expand their vote-by-mail system argue that there is not enough time to successfully roll out a program for the 2020 election. [USA Today]
Critics of the vote-by-mail system say there are too many challenges in getting ballots to voters without addresses or who move often. [National Conference of State Legislatures]
Voters with disabilities or voters requiring language translation benefit from in-person voting. [Reuters]
Critics also say that voters who vote early may miss out on developing information that comes out after they've cast their ballot. [USA Today]
Some worry that the "civic experience of voting with neighbors at a local school, church, or other polling places" will be lost. [National Conference of State Legislatures]
WHERE WE ARE NOW
- Oct 29. 2020: Election officials are warning, at this time, it is too late to mail your ballot back. You should drop them off at a secure location. [NPR]
- Aug. 2020: USPS warned that 46 states could experience mail-in ballot delays. [The Washington Post]
- Aug. 2020: President Trump promises to sue over Nevada's expanded mail-in-voting program, but says those living in Flordia should vote-by-mail. [Associated Press]
- May 2020: Twitter flagged President Trump's tweets about mail-in-ballot fraud with their new fact-checking feature that links to credible sources. [The Wall Street Journal]
- May 2020: President Trump threatened to withhold federal funding to the state of Nevada because it is allowing vote-by-mail this election. [The Las Vegas Sun]
- Apr. 2020: Voting rights activists continue to advocate for mail-in voting to simultaneously protect democracy and public health. [The New York Times]
- Due to COVID-19 concerns, lawsuits for and against nontraditional voting are occurring in Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. [Reuters], [The New York Times]
- Apr. 2020: President Trump said, "mail-in voting is a terrible thing." Republican leaders have also echoed his concern. [Reuters]
- Mar. 2020: Congress passed the stimulus bill, including $400 million for states to expand vote-by-mail, early voting, online registration, and hire more workers. This was not a mandate. [Bloomberg]
- President Trump and the First Lady used vote-by-mail to cast their ballot in the 2018 midterm. [NPR]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- Experts believe an increase in requests for absentee ballots could overwhelm state systems. [Bloomberg] How might you be able to help?
- President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump cast their 2020 Flordia Republican primary ballot by mail. [The New York Times]
- 15 states allow mail-in ballot processing to be conducted only on Election Day which causes a delay in reporting. [Bloomberg] Is this fair or outdated?
- According to The Brennan Center for Justice, ensuring vote-by-mail is accessible to all registered voters would cost $1.4 billion with $600 million for postage alone. [Reuters]