Voting during a coronavirus pandemic has become a major issue as states grapple with the current pandemic and the potential of a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks in the fall when the presidential election is set to take place.
According to CNN, a quarter of Americans voted by mail during the 2016 presidential and 2018 midterm elections. Even the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has noted, “the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need to explore options to increase vote by mail opportunities.”
However, not everyone, including President Donald Trump, has supported the concept of a nationwide effort to make voting by mail easier during this pandemic.
Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of voting by mail:
The Disadvantages of Voting By Mail
The process could be expensive, according to the New Yorker: “In March, Congress authorized four hundred million dollars to support elections this year, including voting by mail, but election specialists say that is far short of what is needed.”
According to a Gallup poll, 49% of Americans said they thought voting by mail would create more fraud and nearly one-third (31%) said they thought it could increase a great deal.
Voting by mail could also disenfranchise those with disabilities who need assistance filling out a form and would normally enlist a poll worker for such aid as well as Native Americans on reservations and rural areas with unreliable mail elections, as the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) mentioned.
The NCSL also noted that voting by mail can slow down the vote count and introduce security concerns about coercion, for example. In Wisconsin, this became an issue when several absentee ballots requested well before the election were not mailed in time for the election, NBC News reported. The election, which NBC News described as a “fiasco,” forced voters to risk contracting coronavirus by voting in-person, and the state’s city of Milwaukee only featured five voting locations as opposed to its usual 180, leading to long lines and even longer wait times.
The Advantages of Voting By Mail
According to a Gallup poll, 64% of Americans were in favor of voting by mail.
Another advantage is that it seems to benefit both parties equally, at about eight percentage points, according to research conducted by professors from multiple universities including Standford and Washington. Researchers also found that it tended to help minority voters and voters of diverse economic backgrounds.
According to the NCSL, voting by mail is very convenient, can save states money and increases voter turnout.
The Pew Charitable Trust conducted a study examining the change in costs in Colorado’s five election administration categories and found that it saved the state 40%. The study also found that counties went from spending an average of $15.96 per vote in 2008 to $9.56 in 2014.
A study from Cambridge University Press in 2013 found that all-mail elections in Washington increased voter turnout:
Using individual observations from the state voter file, we also find that the reform increased turnout more for lower-participating registrants than for frequent voters, suggesting that all-mail voting reduces turnout disparities between these groups.
A study of the 2016 election from Washington Monthly and Project Partners found that voter turnout also increased five-to-seven points in Utah.
The Trump Administration Has Taken A Stance Against Voting By Mail
Trump, despite admitting to having voted by mail himself — and having a press secretary who has voted by mail 11 times — has said he doesn’t like voting by mail because it is too susceptible to fraud and favors Democrats. Recently, Twitter fact-checked Trump’s claim that voting by mail would result in massive voter fraud by posting articles that showed how rare that phenomenon actually is.
Rick Hasen, a professor and expert in election law from the University of California, Irvine, told CNN that he was “very concerned” that Trump was “continuing to make wholly unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud.” However, he also said the attacks on voting by mail could backfire on the Republican party:
If the President tells his reliable voters that vote-by-mail is not secure and if voting in person is not considered safe to these voters, then there’s the real risk that Republican voter turnout could be depressed by these messages from the President.
Other Republicans who have actually wanted to expand absentee and mail-in voting have faced backlash within their own party, such as Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams who said absentee voting was “toxic for Republicans,” NPR reported. Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio and Nevada Secretaries of State have also faced backlash. Most Democrats have also supported voting by mail, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
Some States Have Made Voting By Mail Easier
In the states of Colorado, Oregon and Washington, every voter is mailed a ballot that can be returned by mail during the early voting period, according to the NCSL and 29 states allow people to request an absentee ballot for any reason. There are five states that conduct all elections by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Other states have relied heavily on voting by mail in the past, according to NBC News: “according to the EAC’s 2018 data, mail accounted for a majority of votes in four other states, all in the West: Arizona (78 percent), Montana (73 percent), New Mexico (65 percent) and California (60 percent).”
According to CNN, California, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have recently attempted to make voting by mail easier, but Texas blocked an expansion of voting by mail because it did not consider the potential for contracting coronavirus to be a disability.