The COVID-19 pandemic has hugely influenced the ways in which the American voting public is approaching the presidential election, including the methods with which they vote – where they will fill out their ballot and how they will submit it. It is expected that there will be a “historic level” of people voting by mail this November (according to election officials) as states adjusting voting methods amid the concerns circulating about potential COVID transmissions at polling places.
The rules and regulations in place surrounding mail-in voting vary across the nation. Obtaining a voting ballot is more accessible in some places compared to others, and deadlines can also vary (although most of them lie in October). While some states have worked to expand access to mail-in voting, others are asking for reasons beyond the COVID pandemic to request voting from home.
The process of signing up for mail-in voting can be confusing, so Amber MC Reynolds – National Vote at Home Institute‘s CEO, often dubbed “the leading lady of vote-by-mail” – has been approached to explain and answer various questions about mail-in ballots. The following are summaries of her responses given to the public.
What are the biggest reasons you should vote by mail?
There are many reasons for voting by mail. Voters that have certain disabilities or more elderly voters are often the first social groups that people associate with mail-in voting. However, many students, shift workers, parents, or military personnel also rely on or benefit from voting by mail. Many of the individuals within these groups are unable to access polling booths during voting hours or don’t have the ability to wait in lengthy lines. However, there are other reasons why people may need to vote by mail. For example, some ballots contain multiple pages due to local issues or referendums. If you vote by mail, you will have more time to engage and evaluate these various issues and can conduct your own research. There is far less pressure than there would be if you were having to speed through a voting booth.
Who is eligible for voting by mail?
Eligibility to vote by mail varies depending on where you live. In some states, it is possible to be automatically registered for a mail ballot if you are eligible. Other states have more specific criteria which have to be met, and require you to request a mail-in ballot for each individual election.
How do I find out I am eligible to vote by mail in my state?
The website www.canivote.org (run by the National Association of Secretaries of State) advises you on whether you are eligible for mail-in voting in your state. You can also approach your local election officials. It is strongly advised that you approach your local elections office when you have any questions about their ballot.
When and how do I request a mail-in ballot?
When and how you request your ballot varies depending on your state and its jurisdiction. It is advised that you request your ballot as soon as possible through an online portal specific to your county or state. There are more specific deadlines for each state, but the earlier you request, the more likely it is that your request will be processed and mailed on time.
How do you know your ballot will arrive on time?
It is generally advisable to make your ballot request in time for October 13th and return it by post before October 24th. This should ensure that the local election office receives it on time. These dates allow both you and USPS enough time to return and process the ballot.
Are there other options if I miss the deadline for mail-in voting?
This varies depending on your state. Some have early voting options available (such as early voting locations or curbside voting,) while others restrict voting in person to election day only.
Are there any risks with mail-in voting?
There are no defined risks with mail-in voting, but there are certain features that you must be aware of. The greatest risk is that you fail to return your ballot on time. This can be avoided by requesting and returning ballots early. Ensure you have correctly completed the ballot, read the instructions with care, and made sure there has been no change in your signature from what is on file at the election office. If it has changed, approach the local board of elections in your area to have it updated.
I have concerns about whether my vote will be counted
Your vote will only be discounted if you have not followed the voting process correctly, or are not eligible at the time of voting. If there are any mistakes or inconsistencies, or if you are late submitting the ballot, your vote will be disallowed. The main way to avoid this happening is to inform yourself about the voting process and pay attention to all instructions provided.
Mail-in voting has been criticized by the president. Is it safe?
Mail-in voting is secure and trusted by both voters and politicians. If your ballot is returned on time with the instructions correctly followed, it is a convenient and easy method that can be applied in all elections, not only the presidential election.