The importance of voting has been ingrained in American ideology since the formation of the country’s legal system. With the next presidential election around the corner, many people fear that their voices will cease to be heard amongst governmental restrictions imposed by the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic. As many states still promote policies that place strict guidelines for large gatherings, face coverings, and testing requirements, the future of in-person voting remains uncertain, especially in areas with increased infection rates.
The History of Voting By Mail
“Voting by mail” refers to a wide range of national and state-level policies intended to provide more flexibility to voters unable to cast a direct ballot at a polling booth. The practice in America dates back to the Civil War Era when states established more lenient statutes to allow combat soldiers to cast their votes from afar. At the turn of the 19th century, states began expanding absentee voting laws, allowing mail-in ballots for chronically ill voters across the nation. Currently all states allow at least a small percentage of their population to vote by mail if needed; however, modern technology has not evolved this area of voting procedure quite as dramatically as expected. Typically, absentee ballots are mailed through traditional postage-stamped avenues, but some states have developed provisions for submission through email or fax. Although all states permit some level of mail voting, many states neglect important societal subsets of needy voters. Unlike other judicially mandated issues, mail voting policies vary widely state to state; different states have contrasting approaches to the practice, with varying minimum requirements for excuses, notarizations, and deadlines.
Voting By Mail in the Future
As fears relating to the pandemic grow, citizen anxiety follows. Forty-six states recently established temporary provisions to mail voting statutes amidst resulting COVID-19 restrictions. Seventeen states require a valid excuse, while twelve states have loosened their rules entirely by allowing absentee ballots to any voter who requests them before the deadline. With overall bipartisan support, such provisions have soared through legislatures across the country. Regardless, pushback to the expansions exist, as some traditional lawmakers fear the consequences of remote voting. Texas, one of the four states engaging in high-profile court battles to avoid mail voting expansion policies, leaders expressed that a general fear of the spread of COVID-19 does not amount to an actual sickness and therefore should not be granted remote voting privileges by law. Additionally, other politicians raised economic concerns regarding the likely tremendous cost of implementing remote voting methods for a majority of the country with less than six months before the presidential election. Mostly, representatives across the country have expressed fears that mail voting could result in a sharp increase in election tampering and voting fraud, especially considering the lack of true identity verification available when submitting votes through mail. In Tennessee, a judge will rule in mid-June on whether to expand excuse-free absentee voting to all Tennessee voters who submit timely requests.
Aside from COVID-19’s obvious impact on the relevance of mail voting, the practice has been on the rise in the United States throughout the last decade. In the 2018 midterm elections, twice as many voters utilized mail voting methods than in 1996. Nearly one in four votes cast during those 2018 elections were sent through mail. Mail voting poses a variety of benefits to citizens across the nation, especially voters with debilitating disabilities, chronic illnesses, or transportation restrictions. Ultimately, the expansion of mail voting has the potential to grant unlimited access to thousands of Americans; such expansions would likely succeed in upholding the most fundamental of American liberties, while also pushing the nation further into a prosperous, and convenient, future.
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Thanks to Brandy Austin Law Firm for their insight into voting by mail in the United States.