How to overcome the danger that your vote won’t count

Imagine how much higher voter participation (and Democratic turnout) would be if voters in the entire country could mail in or drop off ballots as they do in several states.

Donald Trump is trying to convince his base that mail-in voting — which he and most members of his administration use regularly — is somehow “rigged” and will delegitimize the results of November’s election. He’s even gone so far as to cast doubt on whether he would accept the election results.

Never mind the fact that the GOP boogeyman of “voter fraud” is extremely rare, whether it’s in-person or mail-in voting. According to a Reuters story:

The conservative Heritage Foundation, which has warned of the risks of mail voting, found 14 cases of attempted mail fraud out of roughly 15.5 million ballots cast in Oregon since that state started conducting elections by mail in 1998.

Go ahead, do the math: That’s a .00009% rate of mail fraud.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing more and more voters to turn to mail-in voting, both for primaries and for the general election — likely twice as many voters will vote by mail this fall. It’s hardly a new practice: In the 2016, election, nearly one-fourth of all voters voted by mail.

The fear of coronavirus transmission, along with the fact that the majority of election judges are senior citizens and thus more likely to decline that civic duty this time around, already has led to closure of polling stations across the country. For the April Wisconsin primary, the city of Milwaukee, which normally has 180 polling stations, had only five stations open.

No doubt Trump and Republicans are frightened that more mail-in voting will give Democrats an edge when more people vote. Yet that’s not the case, according to the Reuters story, even though it’s true that voter turnout increases.

Turnout rates tend to be higher in states that conduct elections by mail. A Stanford University study found that participation increased by roughly 2 percentage points in three states that rolled out universal voting by mail from 1996 to 2018. It had no effect on partisan outcome and did not appear to give an advantage to any particular racial, economic, or age group.

This GOP attack on mail-in voting could backfire on Trump and Republicans candidates. While Trump rails against the practice, GOP leaders worry that Republican voters might follow his lead and refuse to cast an absentee ballot, possibly lowering the number of votes for Trump and other Republicans. As a Washington Post story explains:

Multiple public surveys show a growing divide between Democrats and Republicans about the security of voting by mail, with Republicans saying they are far less likely to trust it in November. In addition, party leaders in several states said they are encountering resistance among GOP voters who are being encouraged to vote absentee while also seeing the president describe mail voting as “rigged” and “fraudulent.” …

State and local Republicans across the country fear they are falling dramatically behind in a practice that is expected to be key to voter turnout this year.

Even as more voters are counting on voting by mail, there is evidence that delivery of first-class mail is being slowed down deliberately, as this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer explains.

The U.S. Postal Service is experiencing significant changes. The new Postmaster General’s policies eliminate overtime, order carriers to leave mail behind to speed up their workdays, and slash office hours, which — coupled with staffing shortages amid previous budget cuts and coronavirus absences — are causing extensive delivery delays.

The new practices have an obvious reason: kill the Postal Service. (The new Postmaster General, Trump campaign fundraiser Louis DeJoy, has between $30 million and $75 million in assets in Postal Service competitors and contractors such as UPS.) As the Inquirer story says:

Philip F. Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina A&T State University who has written numerous books about the Postal Service, said the current changes are part of the Trump administration’s quest to turn the public against the post office and ultimately privatize it.

The mail slowdown could threaten the speedy delivery of millions of expected absentee ballots, causing some social media posts to advise mailing in ballots a full two weeks before Nov. 3. Politifact claims that the two-week warning is an exaggeration. “The Postal Service recommends that domestic, non-military voters mail their ballots at least one week prior to their state’s due date to allow for timely receipt by election officials,” Politifact explained. Although several states are now sending out automatic ballot applications in plenty of time, the Postal Service also advises voters to request their absentee ballots “as early as possible.”

Some states, such as California, require that ballots must be postmarked no later than Election Day — ballots from Golden State voters can arrive up to 17 days after Election Day and still be counted. Others, such as Iowa, require that ballots be postmarked at least one day before the election. Several other states require that ballots must be received no later than Election Day.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a state-by-state breakdown of when ballots must arrive. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia also allow voters to return their ballots by hand if they don’t trust the mail. 

So how can you make sure your ballot is delivered in a timely enough fashion to be counted correctly?

Double-check your voter registration. Some states (led by Republicans, naturally) are notorious for scrubbing voter rolls ahead of elections. Go to Vote.org to make sure you’re registered to vote. If you’re not registered or if you’ve moved, there’s still plenty of time to do so.

Request your absentee ballot early. If you know you’re going to vote by mail, it’s not too soon to send in that request. You won’t receive the actual ballot for a while, but your request is on record.

Don’t wait to do your homework on other races. Ballots are local, as there are county- and statewide races, judges’ races, ballot initiatives, and much more. You might know which candidate will get your vote for president, but you might not know all there is to know about the candidates for county coroner or state’s attorney.

Make sure you know your polling place. Not everyone will vote by mail; some will vote early and some want to show up on Election Day. With so many polling places closed, check to make sure you know where to go. In the June Kentucky primary, many voters in Louisville went to the huge Fairgrounds to cast ballots, where hundreds of voting machines were set up, all at least six feet apart. Voters said it took them longer to find a parking space than it did to wait in line to vote. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, along with his nonpartisan nonprofit organization More Than A Vote, is trying to get NBA arenas to serve as mega polling stations. So far, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Detroit Pistons are on board.

If you’re worried, drop off your ballot in person. Inserting your ballot into a ballot drop box before or on Election Day ensures that your vote will be counted. In the states that have them, drop boxes (such as the one in the photo above) are clearly marked, are secured and locked at all times, and are in public places such as city halls and public libraries. This PDF, from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council and Sector Coordinating Council’s Joint COVID Working Group, explains more about the regulations for drop boxes. Some states without drop boxes will allow voters to deliver absentee ballots to early voting sites. Pressure your elected officials to install ballot drop boxes throughout your state.

This election is too important to leave anything to chance. Decide how you’re going to vote — and then, as Nike says, just do it.

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