'There Are More Things That Can Go Wrong With Vote By Mail' - Do You Agree?
Do you oppose vote-by-mail for the 2020 presidential election?
by If You Can Keep It | 4.8.20
This is our second piece in a series on voting by mail, explaining its anticipated drawbacks. Our previous piece on its benefits can be found here. Whether you're pro or con, join the conversation below.
Why consider vote by mail?
- Questions around how to conduct elections in the middle of a pandemic are becoming increasingly contentious. In many states, primaries have been postponed. Even major national party events, such as the Democratic National Convention, have been pushed back due to concerns over the novel coronavirus.
- These events raise an urgent question: If COVID-19 isn't under control by November, how should the presidential election be conducted?
- Some proponents of vote-by-mail argue that this is an opportune time to expand vote-by-mail for all Americans. While there are some real advantages to vote-by-mail, there are also some significant drawbacks that need to be taken into account.
Vote by mail impacts women - and particularly domestic abuse victims' - abilities to cast independent ballots
- In a November 2018 article for The Guardian, Men Explain Things to Me author Rebecca Solnit recounted "bullying, intimidation and silencing" with relation to women whose homes were visited by Democratic door-to-door canvassers. She wrote:
"Wives asked their husbands directly who the two were going to vote for. Many seemed cowed. Husbands answered the door and refused to let the wife speak to canvassers, or talked or shouted over her, or insisted that she was going to vote Republican even though she was a registered Democrat, or insisted there were no Democrats in the house because she had never told him she was one… Of course I talked to people canvassing for Democrats, and domestic violence takes place across the political spectrum, but the bullying seemed to be mostly either to oblige the wife to lean to the right or to not participate at all."
- Based on the evidence she collected, Solnit concluded that "there are many marriages between Democratic women and Republican men, and many Republican men who intend to control their wives’ political expression."
- She argued that this problem "matters for voting rights whether or not it influences outcomes" and serves as a reminder that many women aren't free and equal in their domestic lives.
- Solnit warned that by taking away the privacy of the voting booth, voting by mail could remove women's abilities to vote according to their beliefs without consequences.
Vote-by-mail could exclude inner city, rural, and Native voters
- Voters in inner cities, rural areas, and on reservations are two other groups that could be negatively impacted by vote-by-mail proposals.
- These populations may have limited access to mail services due to higher mobility rates and poorer mail service. On Native American reservations and in remote Alaskan villages, many residents may also lack traditional mailing addresses and share a post office box with multiple families.
- In a 2010 study on the impact of adopting an all-mail voting system in California, researchers found that a mandatory, all-mail system would negatively impact urban, low-income and communities of color.
- Based on 2009 data, the researchers found that a mandatory vote-by-mail system would decrease an individual voter's odds of voting by 13.2%.
- Additionally, they found that the negative impact of vote-by-mail would be worse for certain populations, with odds of voting decreasing by: 50% for urban voters, 30.3% for Asian voters, and 27.3% for Hispanic voters.
Greater possibility for disputing or challenging results
- Edward Foley, director of the Election Law program at the Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, contends that vote-by-mail could raise the change of litigation challenging elections' results. Writing for Politico, Foley says:
"Simply put, there are more things that can go wrong with vote-by-mail compared with in-precinct voting. And history shows that a major fight over an election’s outcome is more likely to come in the form of challenges to absentee ballots."
- Challenges with absentee ballots can arise in a number of ways, including:
• Delays in getting ballots to voters with enough time for their return (a serious problem in Wisconsin's primary on April 7)
• Disqualification of absentee ballots that arrive too late (in 2018, more than a quarter of ballots rejected across the country were disqualified for arriving too late, and in Florida, at least 33% of ballots were disqualified for this reason)
• Disqualification of absentee ballots due to unintentional clerical errors made by voters while filling envelopes out or misreading of ballots by local election officials
- In a worst-case scenario, disputes over an election's results could end up in front of Congress. Foley, for one, believes that Congress isn't prepared for this sort of outcome. He argues it would be "a full-blown constitutional crisis" if a voting dispute held up the results of the November presidential election and Congress were unable to settle the issue before Inauguration Day on January 20, 2021
Potentially insurmountable logistical hurdles
- With regard to preparing the entire U.S. for a vote-by-mail presidential election this fall, there is also reason to believe the supply chain simply can't accommodate a massive shift to vote-by-mail.
- According to ProPublica, one of the United States' largest ballot printing companies, Runbeck Election Services, is still awaiting final word on the availability of the machines that it uses to print ballots and stuff them into envelopes.
- Runbeck's president, Jeff Ellington, warns that a hastily-implemented vote-by-mail process could result in thousands of voters receiving incorrect ballots.
"A large county may have 2,000 different ballot styles. A voter who lives across the street from another might get an entirely different ballot than their neighbor."
- There are also government-level logistics to take into account. According to Ellington, one semi-trailer truck holds approximately 250,000 ballots. By that estimate, Maricopa County in Arizona, which has more than two million registered voters, would need about nine truckloads of ballots. The logistics of handling this much paper can be overwhelming for states that aren't used to sending out ballots by mail.
Slower vote counts
- Widespread vote-by-mail procedures would also change Americans' experience of election nights.
- Broad or universal adoption of vote-by-mail would make it impossible to announce results through exit polls, which many Americans have come to expect as part of political punditry. Instead, results would be announced hours to even days later.
- Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the ACLU, notes:
"The public has grown accustomed to instant gratification on election night, with results and forecasted winners when polls close or shortly thereafter."
- Adjusting to a slower model, Ho predicts, would be "hard" for voters who have become accustomed to finding out election results shortly after polls close.
What do you think?
Now that you know a bit more about the potential downsides of voting by mail, let us know: Do you think the 2020 presidential election should be conducted with mail-in ballots? Take action above and share your thoughts below.
(Photo Credit: iStock / Bill Oxford)
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