“I have time to research people and issues,” says one mail-in voter, a sentiment that has been echoed in studies on the safety and effectiveness of voting by mail.
There are 88 days until Election Day and states are looking to vote-by-mail systems to keep the electorate healthy. Despite constant false attacks by the Trump administration about the security of mail-in voting, there’s no evidence to support his claim, and voters who have cast ballots by mail are broadly enthusiastic about the effects it has on their participation.
Before the pandemic, many Americans had to go to the polls to cast their votes, facing long lines, extended wait times and an extensive face-to-face interaction on Election Day. Coronavirus has changed that, with states like Virginia and California making it easier to vote by mail this year, in part to encourage social distancing.
In addition to making voting more convenient and safer, voting by mail has also helped voters make more informed decisions. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to cast your ballot well in advance of actual Election Day.
“Mail-in ballots are by far easier than voting in person. It’s convenient and accessible in ways that in-person voting cannot be. You don’t have to depend on the shrinking number of polling stations, you have time to research candidates and ballot initiatives, and you don’t need to stress about personal or work schedules to physically go to a polling place,” Katherine Warder, a voter who lives in Colorado, explained in an interview. Warder said she has voted in person in the past, before but prefers mail-in voting.
“Not only did I have time to research people and issues, but ballots that get mailed out to residents also receive information on ballot initiatives. For instance, there is a summary of for/against implications for each initiative,” Warder said.
That kind of information can help people avoid the experience of having to vote on an initiative or position with little to no information on what the differences are. A study from Stanford University found mail-in voting gave voters more time to research their choices, making them more informed about the issues on the ballot. They were also more likely to complete the entire ballot, a point that is particularly important for elections that include lower-profile positions like local judges and sheriffs.
President Trump has been attacking mail-in voting for months, lying about the potential for fraudulent votes, even when the evidence shows instances of actual voter fraud are exceedingly low. A study from the Scholars Strategy Network found that between 2000 and 2012 there were just six cases of voter impersonation, out of the hundred of millions of ballots that were cast.
Research also shows that offering residents a vote-by-mail option can help improve voter turnout. Simply put, if voting is easier and less time consuming, people are more likely to vote. That has played out this year, in places like Genesee County in Michigan, which saw a 60% turnout in the recent primary election, a drastic increase from the usual 15% turnout. Michigan decided to send every voter an absentee ballot in a recent primary election to keep the spread of coronavirus low.
That encouraged people like Marwa Ayache, a 22-year-old Dearborn Heights resident, to vote by mail instead of going in person.
“I usually vote in person but I decided this year to send in my absentee ballot because it (the absentee ballot application) was already sent out to us,” Ayache told The Gander, which is part of the Courier Newsroom network.
“I ended up getting the day off work so it ended up working out well that I voted absentee,” said the high school teacher.
Another Michigan voter, Samantha Broadbent, told The Gander: “It did give me more time to look over the candidates and make a more informed decision.”
Evidence also doesn’t support claims that voting by mail would favor one political party over another. Another study from Stanford found between 1996 and 2018 that states that set-up voting by mail systems did not “appear to affect either party’s share of turnout” and did not “appear to increase either party’s vote share.”
As for Warder, she sees voting by mail as a key part of holding the government accountable to the American people.
“Accessibility is key in preserving our democracy,” Warder said. “Americans should not be forced to travel far and wide to find their nearest open polling place, nor should they have to wait in lines that could last half a day. Vulnerable populations shouldn’t fear getting sick when casting their ballots. The perceived problems with voting by mail that some politicians are touting are based in fear and in a wish to discourage [voters].”