By Kabir Singh ’22
With the election quickly approaching, the COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down. The current administration's response to COVID-19 has left the country and its economy in disarray. For example, the president's early refusal to acknowledge the dangers of the pandemic or to wear a mask—despite many members of his staff falling sick from the virus—only heightened the devastating effects of the disease, with many Americans following his example.
The continued danger of the pandemic necessitates a shift in the way we vote. The prospect of voting in person forces people to decide between their safety and their vote, depriving them of the constitutional right to a safe, accessible election. While far from perfect in itself, mail-in voting, with certain exceptions, is our only option to preserve our democracy in this difficult time.
President Trump expresses intense disdain for mail-in ballots. He has disparaged the voting system, calling it “INACCURATE AND FRAUDULENT,” claiming it would cause interference from foreign governments. However, there is no evidence to back his claim. Many experts argue that leaving an audit trail rather than the electronic ballots used in our current system could ensure less fraud.
The use of mail-in voting increased dramatically over the past two decades, and it has become a staple in our elections. States where mail-in voting is more common than in-person voting, such as Oregon, which in the past twenty years has mailed in 100 million ballots with only twelve being proved fraudulent, have very few cases of fraud or government interference. Relying heavily on mail-in voting in the upcoming election will require more funding and clearer instructions because it is new to many people, but it is already widely in use and there is no evidence it leads to more fraud.
The president's claims, although often false and misleading, have great influence. For many, the only information they hear about voting is from the weekly presidential address and other communication from the administration. Unfortunately, therefore, a crucial requirement for mail-in voting is continually dispelling false claims. This includes the president’s distinction between mail-in voting and absentee voting. Trump tweeted, “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history.” Law professor Darren Hutchinson says that there is almost no difference between absentee voting and universal mail-in voting. In fact, many states consider them the same thing. So if Trump truly believes that absentee voting is a “good thing,” he should believe the same about mail-in voting.
The rhetoric, unfortunately, seems politically motivated. Mail-in voting is supported by the majority of Americans: 86% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans support mail-in voting. However, many Republicans believe that mail-in voting would greatly benefit Democrats. Georgia’s House Speaker David Ralston claimed, “This will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia,” also saying, “This will certainly drive up turnout.” However, the increase of turnout is a positive outcome, as the objective of these voting systems is to make voting as simple and accessible as possible. Painting higher voter turnout as an issue undermines the foundation of our democracy.
Mail-in voting is not without its shortcomings. Mail-in voting will most likely suppress the voices and votes of underprivileged communities where the postal service is slow and unreliable for those who have typical addresses. However, many Indigenous communities don't, meaning residents must travel distances of more than 60 miles round-trip—spending money on gas they cannot afford—to receive or send mail. Due to their massive and obvious disadvantage, other forms of voting, including properly socially distanced in-person paper ballots, such as drop boxes or safe curbside voting, should be available to these communities and others with extraneous situations that prevent them from voting by mail.
Finally, the main, and arguably most important procedure to take is a cohesive, simple, and accessible explanation of mail-in voting. Many false claims circulate regarding the policy of mail-in voting, causing confusion among voters. The Trump administration's statements regarding the election being postponed have created uncertainty in many states regarding when ballots are due. Local and state officials must make clear their jurisdiction's explicit regulations and dates to make sure everyone's voice is heard. These regulations should be made accessible to everyone, explaining how ballots should be requested, filled out, and sent. Accessibility includes having them sent to all voters registered in their state, far in advance, and in all different languages to ensure no community or group is left out of the voting process.
This election is one of the most important in recent history. As the country's polarization grows, the candidate who wins could change the course of American history and reveal the true values of the American people. Voter turnout this upcoming election could be unlike any we have seen before. We must continue to dispel false claims, create opportunities for marginalized communities, and inform our voters of the regulations in the upcoming election. It is crucial to the American democracy that we enforce and support the only constitutionally sound option for voting in 2020: mail-in voting.