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Some good, and some troublesome, facts about mailed voting

The good news is that I successfully voted in our primary using what Connecticut calls an absentee ballot. I sent the town of Sharon a note that I couldn’t come to the polls because of the coronavirus, and they mailed me a ballot, which I filled out, placed in two envelopes, signing the outer envelope. Because of the mail slow-down, which President Trump and his postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, hope to worsen by requiring that all ballots go “bulk mail,” a locked ballot box stands by the back door of our Town Hall, which is where I dropped my envelope. Dropping off my absentee ballot before Nov. 3 is exactly how I intend to vote in the presidential election. 

What happens to an absentee ballot left in the ballot box? As soon as the town clerk receives the ballot, it is logged in. To prevent anyone from voting twice, an “A” is marked next to the voter’s name on the Official Voter List. If someone who has already voted comes on Election Day, the checkers can remind them that they have already voted absentee. Once the Official Voter List is marked “A”, the ballots are removed from the outer envelope with the voter’s name and signature (which is saved in case of a question!), shuffled so that counters do not know how an individual voted, and put through the tabulator. 

President Trump continues to make dire statements about voting by mail, as well as to sabotage our usually trustworthy mail service. His claim that mailed voting will lead to “millions of ballots sent from other countries” is unlikely, since, to be counted, each mailed-in ballot needs a signature that matches the signature at the voting poll. Other statements by the president on mailed voting take a more fulsome response. 

1. Mail-in voting will lead to a rigged election.

Forty-six states currently allow at least a portion of their voters to cast ballots by mail. Some states allow all registered voters to receive a mail ballot, and some states, like Connecticut, require a reason to cast a vote by mail. Connecticut has added the virus to its list of reasons a voter can check. Some states, like Connecticut, also require a voter signature in order for the mailed-in ballot to be counted, while other states require witnessed signatures and/or the notarization of a ballot’s return envelope.  

Election experts say fraud in mailed voting is slightly more common than in in-person voting, with both extremely rare. Amber McReynolds and Charles Stewart, who study mailed voting, found that, with more than 250 million ballots cast by mail nationwide over the past 20 years, there have been 143 criminal convictions for election fraud — one case per state every six or seven years, or a fraud rate of o.oooo6%.


2. Election results will be delayed for months.

There are efforts to block President Trump and Postmaster General LeJoy from removing mail-sorting machines and using bulk mail for ballots. However, even ballots mailed first class need to be individually opened and counted, as well as involve signature verification, so take longer to count than in-person ballots. Since Democrats are more likely to vote by mail than Republicans, one possibility is that, because the mailed-in ballots haven’t been counted, Republicans, who vote in person, will lead on election night. Unfortunately, if an early Republican win is followed by a Democratic victory, Trump may claim voter fraud or a rigged election. 

Although some states allow administrators to begin processing ballots before Election Day, election results are likely to come in during the week or weeks following Election Day. Delays could be especially noticeable in states that accept ballots postmarked by Election Day but received afterward — including such battleground states as North Carolina, California and Texas.

If you are used to staying up to watch election results come in, please remember that “precincts reporting,” the metric used to indicate how much of the vote has been counted, will be meaningless in an election where there are large numbers of untallied mail ballots.


3. Mail-in voting will be bad for Republicans.

Although Trump has argued that expanding mailed voting will be bad politically for Republicans, 49% of Republicans support mail voting, with 70% of Republicans supporting it in states where a sizable number already vote by mail. As important, a recent study from Stanford University found no partisan effect of implementing universal mailed voting.  

As tensions regarding the upcoming election grow, suspicions are likely to multiply. My suggestion is simple: ask for an absentee or mailed ballot early, but don’t rely on the mail to return your ballot.  Instead, drop your carefully filled-out ballot in the ballot box installed outside your town hall. 


Carol Ascher, who lives in Sharon, has published seven books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as many essays and stories.  She is trained as a spiritual director.

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