Postal Voting in the United States: A Complete Guide to Voting by Mail
Voting by Mail: Postal Voting in the US.
2020 will be a year of postal voting in the US. Postal voting is votingprocess where ballot papers are distributed to electors and typically returned by post, rather than electors voting in person at a polling station or electronically via an electronic voting system. In an election, postal votes may be available on-demand or limited to individuals meeting certain criteria, such as a proven inability to travel to a designated polling place. Most electors are required to apply for a postal vote, although some may receive one by default. In some elections, postal voting is the only voting method allowed and is referred to asall-postal voting. Except for those elections, postal votes constitute a form of early voting and may be considered an absentee ballot. Postal voting history dates back to the 19th century, and modern-day procedures and implementation vary by jurisdiction. This study will focus on the United States and using data from states where postal voting is widely available, such as; California, Oregon, and Washington, which shows that postal voting availability tends increase voter turnout.
Understanding Postal Voting in theUS.
The United States is making it easier for citizens to vote absentee by mail this year due to the Coronavirus. Voting by mail is not new inthe US - nearly one in four votes cast in 2016 presidential ballots were by mail. While mail-in balloting does have its drawbacks, it helps minimize the long lines at polling sites, faulty voting machines, and COVID-19-induced staffing shortages that have already hindered some US elections. Conventional methods and the decentralized nature of US elections make it very hard to interfere with mailed ballots. Heavy security has been invested in protecting against fraud. Election experts say it would be nearly impossible for foreign actors to disrupt postal voting in the US by mailing counterfeit ballots. Ballots are not counted if they are not printed on the proper type of paper and do not include specific technical markings.States also require voters to sign the outside of their envelope, which they match to a file signature. Some 29 states and the District of Columbia allow voters to track their ballots to ensure they reach tallying centers.Fourteen states and Washington DC also allow voters to return their votes by hand if they do not trust the mail. Those envelopes are typically opened by a different group of workers than those who scan the ballots. Outside observers are allowed to monitor the process to ensure voter privacy.
Is Voting by Mail Safe and Reliable?
The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing means absentee and postal voting in the USis almost a must-do. It is estimated that 70% of all ballots cast this year in the United States will beby mail. As absentee and mail voting rates increase, some government officials have raised concerns that more mail voting will lead to widespread voter fraud. Not only are fraud rates extremely low, but even before the pandemic, all states allowed some form of absentee voting. The most common myth about absentee voting is that mail-in ballots are more susceptible to voter fraud. Often, people who vote in person don’t update their addresses, even when they have moved. But because it is an in-person voting model, the state or county doesnot go to great extremes to keep address lists clean. The jurisdictions with all-mail elections must constantly update voters' addresses to ensure that the right voters receive the correct ballots. As a result, when a person moves, they are unlikely to get the wrong vote by mail. Every single signature on every single ballot that is returned to a county election official is checked against the name on file in a voter's registration record. This enables officials to do to two things:
(1) ensure the ballot was returned by an eligible voter, and
(2) if the signature on the ballot envelope does not match the name on file, it gives the voter a chance to either update their record or alert election officials that the ballot returned may be fraudulent. The election body will take the following precautions to ensure a safe and secure postal voting in the US;
• Use an election management system to track every ballot issued and prevent double voting.
• Updating voter registration lists daily ensures the voter's correct residence address and mailing address are on file.
• They are sending out mailers to determine if a person has moved.
• Preparing staffed mail ballot drop off locations, adding a layer of security and transparency to the ballot dropoff process. The electoral body will take the following steps if they suspect that an absentee ballot has been tampered with or fraudulently filled out:
• First, they contact the voter to mitigate the specific issue. Contacting voters about signature irregularities, or curing, is an essential part of any absentee voting process as it gives voters a chance to fix ballot errors before discarding them entirely.
• Second, officials determine if the voter simply cannot repeat their signature through the curing process or if someone else voted the ballot.
If it becomes clear that a voter's file simply has an outdated name, the voter would be given a chance to update their signature file to avoid any future issues. While local election administrators and their staffs conduct curing, county canvassing boards ultimately determine whether ballots in question may be counted. Finally, in the rare case that a ballot was cast fraudulently, election officials work with law enforcement to prosecute offenders in Washington. If there is enough evidence, the matter is taken seriously and forwarded to law enforcement to investigate and consider prosecution.
Postal Voting in the US: How to Vote.
You must apply for a postal vote if you want to vote by post, for example if:
• You’re away from home
• You're abroad and want to cast your vote
You can apply to vote by post for one of the following:
• A single election on a specific date
• A specific period if you want to vote
Make a new application for a postal vote if you move house or be away from home when the postal vote is sent out. When postal voting in the US, you should:
• Mark your vote on your ballot paper in secret
• Fill in the postal voting statement
• Put the ballot and statement in the envelope provided
• Seal the envelope yourself
Post your poll back as quickly as possible to make sure it is counted. Your ballot paper must display your details and voting choice. If it has been damaged, you need to get another one. You can either
• Ask your local Electoral Registration office to post a replacement
• Collect a replacement from your local Electoral Registration Office up to 5 pm on Election Day.
You cannot vote at a polling station if you registered to vote by post, but your ballot paper was lost or damaged.
Will Mail Voting in the US Face Any Challenges?
The following are some of the perceived slipups in the postal voting process;
• Voters may be paid to vote for specific candidates.
• A carrier may collect many ballots and fail to deliver the ones from the neighborhood likely to vote against their preferred candidates.
• A courier worker may collect many ballots, open envelopes, and mark votes; if the voter has already voted, the fraudster can mark extra votes on the same contest to invalidate the ballot.
• The election office mayreceive the ballots late. Most ballots can be misplaced by the postal service, posing a challenge to postal voting in the US.
• A problem will arise if the voter's signatureon the envelope is missing or does not match the signature on file. That will mean either a widespread fraud being prevented by signature review. Or if those submissions were not fraudulent, then valid ballots may be rejected.
• Election staff may be paid by a certain contender to open envelopes falsely or ignore a ballot in favor of their favorite contender.
• The voter may be pressured to vote a certain way by a family, caregiver, or other politicians. A voter may also present a blank ballot.
• Suppose the voter misplaces ballot and decide to vote using a provisional ballot, and someone else may find and vote the original postal ballot. In that case, this will lead to rejection of the provisional ballot.
• A voter may not receive a mailed ballot, because it does not arrive at the address in time, or someone else takes it and vote on his behalf.
Lastly, even states that deliver mail ballot without request may suffer problems because some voters have died or moved, and any poll not returned by the post office can get into the wrong hands.
Lots of controversy surround the idea of Postal voting in the US but time is ticking so the best we can do is focus on mitigating risks to build fair election process.