As the election inches nearer, I need to get myself ready for a big change. I’ve never voted in person before. In Washington state, where I’m from, we use mail-in ballots. It’s convenient, stress free and there’s no waiting in a long line. Because of mail-in voting, I’ve never missed an election. So now, as I’m gearing up for what could be a lengthy and not socially distanced voting experience, I’ve been wondering: Why doesn’t everyone have the option to vote by mail?
With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging across the country, it makes a lot of sense to me to use mail-in ballots across the board. Although there are some exceptions that allow mail-in ballots in Texas, like for those for voters 65 and older, or for people with disabilities that would make voting in person challenging, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the logic of requiring all other voters to congregate in the midst of a pandemic.
Unlike mail-in voting, which can be done at one’s leisure, in person voting has a strict time window that leaves out many people. If you’re a single parent, are you really going to find someone to watch your kids as your wait in line — potentially for hours — to vote? If you’re an hourly employee, is your boss really going let you take part of your day off to vote? And even if they did, could you afford that time off? In-person voting isn’t only inconvenient, but it systematically disenfranchises lower income people, who are disproportionately people of color and people who live in rural areas. The decisions made on a ballot determine everyone’s future, but those who can’t make it to a polling station don’t have their voices heard. But they do have a mailbox.
However, recently I’ve been seeing unfounded claims about the lack of security of mail-in voting circulating on social media. But let me assuage your fears. Using Washington state as a model: Similarly to registering as an in-person voter, state election officials solicit and confirm the personal information of everyone who registers to vote. From Social Security number to birth date, you must prove you’re a real human — who isn’t registered to vote somewhere else — before you can even receive a ballot. Once you’re registered and have filled out your ballot, you’ll see that it has an individualized barcode that allows the elections office to track where your ballot came from and lets you track when and where your ballot ends up — kind of like waiting for a package from Amazon. You can even track when it is counted. And then there’s the personalized signature. And as someone who has had a check done on one of their ballots, I can attest to the scrutiny mail-in ballots go through. It’s really difficult to “fake” one.
A few years ago I was scrambling to fill out my ballot. I was late for class, but I wanted to make sure it got in before the cutoff, so I scribbled in my responses and quickly signed the ballot before throwing it in the mailbox. Later that week, I got a call from an elections official. Upon receiving my ballot, they checked my signature with the signature on my driver’s license, and the two didn’t match. So I was asked a series of questions about my age, the date I voted, the address I currently lived at and asked to fill out a follow-up form — all to confirm that it was actually me who had voted. And it was me who voted. But they made sure of it.
For those who still may not be on board, studies have shown that voter fraud in the U.S. is incredibly rare — including with mail-in ballots. A helpful piece is “The misleading myth of voter fraud in American elections” by Lorraine C. Minnite of Rutgers University-Camden, and it might be worth a read for some. It’s quick and easy to understand, and Minnite presents research about accusations of voter fraud, including data collected by the U.S. Justice Department showing that during three years of the George W. Bush administration, the rate of voter fraud was a meager 0.00000132%.
So why are we putting up a barrier that makes it harder for people to have their vote counted? That seems like even more risky behavior. To quote Minnite: “In a democracy, reducing access to the ballot is difficult to justify.”