CHICAGO, Illinois. – In 2016, about 33 million ballots were cast by post, about a quarter of all votes cast. With pandemic protocols and precautions in place, experts estimate a record number of votes by correspondence in this election cycle.
Voting by mail has been in existence for more than 150 years, since the civil war.
“It has become so common in the United States that since 2010, about a quarter of the electorate have voted by mail in federal elections,” said Lawrence Norden, director of the Electoral Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Some states have what’s known as a universal mail voting system, which means they mail ballots to all of their constituents. But in most states, voters must request an absentee vote.
“Most of them have made exceptions for 2020, due to COVID and so what we are left with is only a handful of states where we need an excuse to vote by mail,” Norden said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, normally 34 states and Washington, DC, allow voting without excuses for absent / in the mail. Those include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Five automatically email votes to voters: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington. And notably, for 2020, at least four others have done the same: California, New Jersey, Nevada and Vermont.
For months, President Donald Trump has argued that voting by mail leads to mass fraud.
“The ballots sent in the post are corrupt, in my opinion. And they collect them and get people to come in and sign them. And then in many cases they are fake. It’s a horrible thing, “he told reporters in April.
Experts say that’s not true. Although there have been some examples of fraud committed in mail order voting, in modern history, studies indicate that it is by no means common.
“The chances of someone committing mail-order fraud are almost the same as someone being struck by lightning,” Norden said. “It’s extremely rare.”
Rejection is more common.
According to the Brennan Center, during the midterm elections, more than 430,000 ballots sent nationwide were rejected due to delays, minor flaws and voter errors. In some states, rejected votes hit minorities at higher rates than white voters.
Norden recommends voting as early as possible when using a postal or absentee vote.
“Do it early so you can avoid the kind of last-minute complications we’ve sometimes seen,” he said. “The main reason mail-order ballots don’t matter is because people get them late.”
Even with the expansion of voting by mail, there are still variations in deadlines and rules. Experts say it’s also important to make sure you follow your state’s specific requirements.