The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has stirred up concerns that voting in the 2020 general election will be problematic for many across the nation. A recent push for an increase in mail-in voting has met with resistance from those who believe it will lead to widespread voter fraud.
There are two major types of voting by mail according to Politifact: absentee voting and mail-in voting. Absentee voting requires citizens to actively request a ballot, and many states require the citizen to provide an excuse for voting absentee, such as illness or not being in the state at the time of the election. Other states have no-excuse absentee voting, but this still requires an action on the part of the potential voter to request a ballot. This differs from mail-in voting, which consists of the state mailing ballots to all registered voters without the voters’ request for such a ballot.
According to Brookings.edu, five states currently have all-mail elections, where the state sends out ballots to all registered voters. Those states are Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii.
The participation results in the five universal mail-in states are mixed. According to One America News Network, in 2016 Colorado and Oregon were above the national voter participation average, Washington and Utah were close to the average, and Hawaii had the lowest participation rate in the nation.
Democrats have pushed for an expansion of universal mail-in voting for the fall election. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla claimed earlier this year, “Here’s the truth about vote by mail: It’s a proven practice that’s not only safe and secure and efficient for administrators, it’s tremendously convenient for voters and has helped increase voter turnout rates and not just in blue states like California, but in red states and purple states across the country. So to suggest that vote-by-mail is not inherently safe, is not only false, frankly it’s also an attempt to distract.”
A study by Stanford University found that expanding to a universal mail-in vote, “has a very modest but positive increase on turnout, and this is consistent with past research on the topic.” The study’s co-author, Stanford University political science professor Andrew Hall, said, “Is this a ‘fact’ though? I don’t think so, since with more data, we or other researchers might later revise our estimates. And it doesn’t speak to the accuracy of Padilla’s claim, which seems to be about voting by mail more generally, rather than specifically about universal vote by mail.”
President Trump, while opposing universal mail-in voting, is in favor of absentee voting. The president sounded a warning about mail-in voting, saying, “I have to tell you, that if you go with this universal mail-in … tens of millions of ballots being sent to everybody and their dogs, dogs are getting them okay, people that have been dead for 25 years are getting them, you have to see what’s happening. Then you’re never going to have a fair election.” He praised the absentee balloting process. “Absentee ballots are great because absentee ballots you have to go through a process to get them and it’s actually a great thing,” he said. “Absentee ballots, I’m gonna be voting absentee.”
The Election Assistance Commission reported that in the case of absentee ballots voter participation increased dramatically. Requested absentee ballots were returned at an 80% rate, exceeding the national voter participation rate by 17 percent.