History and culture, politics

Vote by snail mail?

In the United States, our General Election is on November 3, 2020, and as you can imagine, there’s been lots of talk about whether or not it’s safe to go to the polls during the Coronavirus pandemic. The fewer times you have to be around lots of people, the better, right? So, voting by mail is a huge topic of conversation these days.

What is it?

Well, voting by mail is basically the same as absentee voting, which has been around since the Civil War.

” What we in the U.S. now call absentee voting first arose during the Civil War, when both Union and Confederate soldiers were given the opportunity to cast ballots from their battlefield units and have them be counted back home.” (MIT Election Data + Science Lab)

Traditionally, absentee voting was limited to people who were too sick to vote on election day, or who were overseas during the election. Beginning in the 1980s, many states began to allow absentee voting for any reason at all.

This year, due to the pandemic, many states are making it easier to vote by mail. Check your state’s election office to make sure you know what the rules are and so you don’t miss any important deadlines!

How does it work?

Basically, you get an application from your state or county Board of Elections office, fill it out, and a few weeks later (depending on how close to the election it is) they mail you a ballot. You complete your ballot and mail/return it to the Board of Elections no later than 5 p.m. on election day.

In North Carolina, you must have one witness to observe you filling out the ballot (but not observing WHO you vote for). Other states may have different rules about this.

For information about absentee voting in NC, check out the state BOE website.

Is voting by mail reliable?

The short answer is yes. There are very few cases of voter fraud associated with mail-in ballots, and safeguards are in place to help prevent fraud. This article by Bipartisan Policy Center gives a great overview and talks to local and state election officials.

“…  jurisdictions with all-mail elections must constantly update voters’ addresses to ensure that the right voters receive the right ballots. As a result, when a person moves, they are unlikely to get the wrong ballot by mail, whereas an in-person voter with an outdated address could be going to the wrong polling place for years.”

What should you do?

It’s up to you how you will vote in 2020. I’m going to go ahead and fill out the absentee ballot application that a nonprofit sent to me in the mail. That way, it’s done, and no Coronavirus, car breaking down, or other unexpected disaster will stop me from getting to the polls!

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