- Quarantine restrictions are spurring several US states to weight adopting vote-by-mail policies for the November elections.
- Five states already have established vote-by-mail processes: Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and Hawaii.
- Switching to vote-by-mail is typically a yearslong process, but states would have to do the work in just a few months.
- And the initiative is facing criticism from President Donald Trump, who has expressed fears of ballot fraud.
- View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.
With much of the United States under quarantine restrictions, several states are weighing whether they will be able to hold traditional elections this November.
One alternative to in-person voting that is gaining steam is vote-by-mail, which is already an established process in five states: Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and Hawaii. And on Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to send registered voters in his state a mail-in ballot for November.
But if other states want to follow in their footsteps, they have years of groundwork to do in just a matter of months.
In the case of Washington, for example, the transition to all-mail elections took about 25 years, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman said.
“You need to have the capacity of staff, and a facility large enough to process, you know, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of ballots at a time, and have the equipment like high-speed sorters and ballot tabulators,” Wyman told Business Insider Today. “States that really didn’t want to ever do vote-by-mail are going to have to embrace some form of it.”
“And I think something that was probably going to happen over the course of five years will happen in the next, what, 10 months?”
The drive to expand voting by mail is gaining national attention, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing for nationwide, federally funded vote-by-mail provisions.
But mail-in voting has many sceptics, including President Trump. At a recent press briefing,Trump said, without evidence, that “there’s a lot of dishonesty going along with mail-in voting, mail-in ballots.”
The president also tweeted that mail-in voting is fraudulent and differs from absentee voting, which is not exactly true. While absentee ballots are requested and mail-in ballots are simply mailed out to registered voters, the way states handle them is exactly the same.
“The process is really interchangeable,” Wyman said. “The best modern-era term would be ‘vote at home.’ It doesn’t really matter how you received the ballot or if you had to request it or not.”
She also said that despite what the president tweeted, vote-by-mail policies aren’t biased against a particular party and are not rife with fraud.
The process is really interchangeable. The best modern-era term would be “vote at home.” It doesn’t really matter how you received the ballot or if you had to request it or not.
“All voters can do this. It’s not going to advance one party or another,” she said. “We build in a lot of security measures, and first of all, all of these can be observed. Every ballot that’s returned, the signature on the envelope is compared to the voter’s registration signature on file. And those have to match for the ballot to be counted.”
For now, voters in most states need to request a ballot, and in some states, they must provide a reason for their absence on Election Day. These extra steps might reduce voter turnout, which is why there have been legislative efforts to make absentee ballots more accessible.
“Having to request the ballot is just one more hurdle and that is going to likely skew who participates in the election,” Jonathan Nagler, co-director of NYU’s Centre for Social Media and Politics, told Busiuness Insider Today. “You’re going to depress turnout among people with lower levels of education and income.”
But states with vote-by-mail, such as Washington, report a high voter turnout. Washington ranked seventh out of all 50 states in the 2018 midterm election. Meanwhile other vote-by-mail states fared even better: Colorado ranked second among all states in voter turnout, while Oregon ranked fifth.
“What we’ve seen in Washington is that vote-by-mail definitely increases turnout,” Wyman said. “They like the convenience. They like it because they can be more informed to get more information, do it on the kitchen table over the course of a couple of days looking at materials rather than five minutes in the voting booth.”
The US also might look abroad for ideas on how to safely hold an election during a pandemic. In South Korea, COVID-19 patients were allowed to vote by mail in their April 15 legislative elections.
The country also implemented two days of in-person early voting, as well as strict cleaning and social distancing measures, leading to a voter turnout that was the highest since 1992.
In the US, states determine their own voting processes. That means it’s uncertain what the voting landscape will look like nationwide in November.
But advocates like Nagler think mail-in voting could be the method of the future.
“It’s a safe form of voting. It’s been proven to work,” he said. “States have implemented it and do not have problems with their elections.
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