Five Facts About Mail in Voting

It has been around since the Civil War

  1. 34 States have allowed mail in voting without a need for a reason for decades.
  • Only 16 states require a reason to cast a mail in vote.
  • 33 million votes were cast by mail in the 2016 election.
  • Trump challenged the 2016 mail in votes but abandoned his challenge because there was no evidence to support fraud.
  • State laws allowing mail in voting have been on the books for decades.

When Mail In Voting Began

Mail in voting began as early as the Civil War when soldiers living in encampments wanted to cast their vote for Republican incumbent Abraham Lincoln or Democrat challenger George McClellan in the 1864 election. More than a century later, the  United States is still grappling with mail in voting during a pandemic for the upcoming presidential election. In fact, voting by mail has taken center stage. President Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he opposes additional funding for the Postal Service to handle the influx that will be coming of mail in ballots during a pandemic election.  He has been quoted as saying “now they need that money in order to make the post office work so I can take all these millions and millions of ballots. ”  Trump further claims that these votes would be “fraudulent”.  However,  it is important to point out again that mail-in voting is not a new concept as many seem to believe. Although the current pandemic has added urgency for states to re-assess the need for in person voting with crowded polling lines,  the system has been in place for well over a  century.  And in fact,  the 2016 election may have ended differently without mail-in voting.  Trump actually did not win the popular vote and in states like Michigan, only 11,000 votes separated the candidates. 

How the US uses mail in Voting

There have been two voting systems that use mail-in voting for decades. The first is an absentee ballot for those who are unable to vote in person due to military service, other duties outside their state or disability. The second is the straight vote by mail which is open to all voters. Every state has offered some form of absentee voting since voting began. In some of those states voters have needed a valid reason such as an illness or living outside the state in order to request a ballot by mail. However,  34 states currently have in place no excuse absentee balloting which allows any registered voter in the state to request an absentee ballot in order to vote by mail which as follows:

Alaska Alaska Stat. § 15.20.010No-excuse absentee voting
Arizona Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16-541No-excuse absentee voting
California Cali. Elec Code § 3003No-excuse absentee voting
Colorado Colo. Rev. Stat. §1-5-401  All-mail elections
District of Columbia D.C. Mun. Regs. Tit. 3, § 720No-excuse absentee voting
Florida Flor. Stat. § 101.62No-excuse absentee voting
Georgia Georgia Code § 21-2-380No-excuse absentee voting
Hawaii Hawaii Stat. §11-101All-mail elections
Idaho Idaho Code §34-1001No-excuse absentee voting
Illinois 10 ILCS 5/19-1No-excuse absentee voting
Iowa Iowa Code § 53.1No-excuse absentee voting
Kansas Kan. Stat. Ann.§ 25-1119(a)No-excuse absentee voting
Maine 21-A ME Rev Stat § 751No-excuse absentee voting
Maryland Md. Elec Law §9-304No-excuse absentee voting
Michigan M.C.L.A. 168.759No-excuse absentee voting
Minnesota Minn. Stat. § 203B.02No-excuse absentee voting
Montana Mont. Code § 13-13-201No-excuse absentee voting
Nebraska Neb. Rev. Stat. Ann. §32-938No-excuse absentee voting
Nevada NRS §293.313  (1960)No-excuse absentee voting
New Jersey N.J. Rev. Stat. § 19:63-3No-excuse absentee voting
New Mexico N.M. Stat. § 1-6-3No-excuse absentee voting
North Carolina N.C. Gen Stat § 163-226No-excuse absentee voting
North Dakota N.D. Cent. Code § 16.1-07-01No-excuse absentee voting
Ohio Ohio Rev Code § 3509.02No-excuse absentee voting
Oklahoma 26 OK Stat § 26-14-105No-excuse absentee voting
Oregon Ore. Rev. Stat. §254.465All-mail elections
Pennsylvania 25 P.S. § 3150.11No-excuse absentee voting
Rhode Island R.I. Gen Laws § 17-20-2No-excuse absentee voting   (Rhode Island lists several excuses to vote absentee, but also specifies “No specific reason necessary.” Since any Rhode Islander can request an absentee ballot, NCSL has categorized it as no excuse required.)
South Dakota S.D. Cod. Laws § 12-19-1No-excuse absentee voting
Utah Utah Code Ann. §20A-3a-302All-mail elections
Vermont 17 VSA § 2531No-excuse absentee voting
Virginia VA Code Ann. § 24.2-700No-excuse absentee voting
Washington Rev. Code of Wash. 29A.40.010All-mail elections
Wisconsin Wis. Stat. § 6.86 (1)(ac)No-excuse absentee voting
Wyoming WY Stat § 22-9-102No-excuse absentee voting

Given the current pandemic state, it is likely that anyone in the country could request an absentee ballot based on the pandemic.  It is important to note that most of these laws for absentee  voting without condition have been on the books for decades.   In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the states  have decided that voters in every state, with the exception of Mississippi and Texas, will  be allowed to vote by mail or by absentee ballot in this year‘s elections based upon public health and safety concerns. However,  the current president is attempting to undermine and cast doubt upon a system of voting that has literally been in place since the Civil War. He wants people to believe that this is a new and rushed system that is without assurance of credibility. Fact check,  that is completely inaccurate. Again, this system has been in place again for over 150 years. It is only the current crisis that has now created the need for a larger use of the system.

However, the controversy surrounding mail in voting does date back to the Civil War. Before that time, only the state of Pennsylvania granted soldiers the right to use an absentee ballot. That process was changed as thousands of soldiers remain deployed far from their home states building up to the 1864 presidential election which is likely the most critical election in our nation’s history before the current time; and it is ironic that the need for racial equality was the basis for the extreme need to allow every person to exercise their right to vote regardless of their location at the time. From 1862 to 1865, 20 northern states changed laws requiring in person voting allowing deployed soldiers to vote. However, even that far back, the issue quickly became a partisan issue between Republicans who supported the cause and needed the soldiers to vote and the Democrats who feared that the Republican military leadership would tamper with the results. The Democratic Party at the time alleged that Republican interference and fraud would taint the election.

Since that time, nine different state supreme courts heard challenges to the laws and determined whether remote voting was constitutional or not. Four states struck down the absentee voting process based on fears of fraud. At the end of the 1800s, many states had expanded their laws to allow homebound or traveling voters to cast their vote in the elections. Over the next  hundred years the process has been in place, numerous anti-fraud protections have been built in to mail in balloting systems including signature verification, drop boxes in secure locations, and address confirmations. No evidence exists that mail in voting  increases electoral fraud.  In 20 years and 250 million mail- in votes, there have only been 143 criminal convictions related to fraudulent absentee ballots being cast. Donald Trump did challenge the 2016 presidential election where 33 million votes, almost 1/4 of the total votes cast, we’re cast by mail-in voting in that election. Although President Trump appointed a commission to investigate voter fraud after claiming millions of illegally counted mail-in votes, his claim was later abandoned as there was no evidence to support such claims. In fact,  ironically, President Trump himself cast his vote by mail in absentee ballot from Florida.

Stanford University recently released a study examining elections in three states from 1996 to 2018 and found no personal advantage from mail-in  voting. .   The study stated “claims that vote-by-mail fundamentally advantages one party over the other appear overblown” the authors wrote. “In normal times, based on our data at least, vote-by-mail increased  participation while not advantaging either party.“

The controversy of vote-by-mail ,which has been around since the Civil War soldiers started filling out their ballots from their military stations, continues to exist. However, according to a recent poll by the PEW research center, more than 70% of Americans feel that voting should be accessible to all including by mail. Despite recent attacks from the Trump administration, most states are moving forward with mail in voting in light of the pandemic. Some experts do believe that a majority of the ballots cast in this November‘s election will arrive by mail.

However you decide to vote this year, it is a critical  election in our nation’s history and my staff and myself at implore you cast your ballot.  One-person, One vote, every vote matters. 

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