Let’s talk about postal voting and why it’s such a big deal in the USA presidential election. A lot of voters want to mail in their ballots because of the pandemic to stay safe. But President Donald Trump doesn’t like […]
Let’s talk about postal voting and why it’s such a big deal in the USA presidential election. A lot of voters want to mail in their ballots because of the pandemic to stay safe.
But President Donald Trump doesn’t like it. He’s being accused of trying to mess with the election. So how does postal voting work? Can it really lead to voter fraud? And how might all of this affect the presidential election?
It’s pretty astonishing really that voting by mail a pretty standard procedure around the world is now one of the most talked about issues in this presidential race. We’ll get into all the politics in a second. But first here are some basics.
Mail-in balloting in the US is pretty popular. It’s for voters who can’t get to a polling station on Election Day. It’s for the elderly, the sick, people who live abroad, military personnel and people who just prefer to vote that way. President Trump mailed in his ballot in 2018. So did one-quarter of all voters in the last election. Different states have different rules. There’s what’s called universal mail voting where ballots are automatically sent to everyone.
And this year five states will run mail-in-only elections including Utah, a solidly Republican state. But in most states Americans have to apply to get what’s called an absentee ballot. They have to contact their local election authority and normally they have to make the case why they can’t vote in person.
But this year because of the pandemic two-thirds of US states say they don’t require registered voters to give an excuse in order to get an absentee ballot. Meaning a lot more people will be able to vote by mail this time around. So understandably there’s concern that there’s going to be a strain on the United States Postal Service that could lead to delays and mistakes.
Because they do happen. In 2016 states rejected about 1% of ballots for things like late arrivals and missing signatures. But there are safeguards to try to reduce errors and stop fraud. For example an absentee ballot can only be sent to a person’s registered address. One envelope keeps the ballot private and a second envelope is used to mail it back though most Americans choose to drop off the envelopes at government offices. Voters also have to sign the ballot envelope and election officials verify the signature. They also come with bar-codes so they can be traced.
All of those checks take extra time and money. But this year the US Postal Service is spending less not more. There’ve been huge cuts. In some states it’s already led to delays. The man behind those cuts is the new postmaster general who took charge in June. Louis DeJoy is a businessman who was appointed by Trump to reform the Postal Service. And it is in trouble. It’s $160 billion in debt.
That’s mostly because back in 2006 a new law forced the post office to prepay employees’ retirement and healthcare benefits 75 years into the future. Add to those things like people not mailing as much as they used to. But Trump’s critics are still skeptical of DeJoy’s appointment for a few reasons. He’s personally given the Republican Party and Donald Trump close to $3 million in donations since 2016.
Another concern is about timing. Why bring these cuts in now? So why are people suspicious? For the last year President Trump has been attacking mail-in balloting.
And he’s making a lot of accusations. Those ballots will be “forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.” That mail drop boxes make it possible for people to vote multiple times and that they aren’t COVID sanitized.
That last one was actually flagged up by Twitter as potentially misleading. I think mail-in voting is horrible. – But you voted by mail in Florida’s election last month didn’t you? Sure I can vote by mail. – So how do you reconcile that? Because I’m allowed to. He’s also openly said that universal mail-in voting — in his words “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
The Democrats are doing it because in theory it’s good for them. At the same time postal voting is also used a lot by elderly voters. They tend to skew Republican. And Trump is actually encouraging mail-in voting in Florida which is home to a lot of retirees. But it’s a different story in Nevada. Trump is suing the state for changing its rules so that all registered voters get a ballot in the mail. Here’s the thing. Florida has a Republican governor. Nevada’s is a Democrat.
It’s why Trump’s opponents feel this is all deeply political. OK so what about these allegations of possible corruption? Well fraud is rare — but it does happen.
The Washington Post did an analysis of recent elections in three vote-by-mail states. They found 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of people who died. That was out of more than 14 million mail-in ballots. That’s a miniscule percentage.
The most recent example of fraud was in 2018 involving a staff member of North Carolina’s Republican Congressman Mark Harris. “Harris’ political strategist McCrae Dowless, accused of tampering with more than 500 absentee ballots to help Harris win. “So while the politicians argue about the odds of a rigged election plenty of people are worried that this will all just end up a giant mess. And that’s mainly because of those budget cuts to the Postal Service. DeJoy says he’s paused them. But some think the damage has already been done. He was even called in by a congressional committee to reassure Americans that the postal system can handle all those votes.
Many Democrats though aren’t convinced.
The House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democrats, passed an emergency bill to give $25 billion to the post office. More than two dozen Republicans voted for it. But the Republican-controlled Senate hasn’t passed the bill. Anybody who wants to give money to the post office you might as well just put it into a big pile on your front lawn and burn it. You can’t run a business with 80% of your cost being labor.
But politics aside … actually most Americans, Democrats and Republicans hold up the Postal Service as an important public institution. And right now it’s under a lot of pressure. It’s got to help deliver this election in the middle of a pandemic. And delays are likely. Some states will still be counting votes that arrive after Election Day.
So let’s be clear. We probably can’t expect to have a winner straightaway. And any hiccups could be used by both presidential candidates to contest the result. And they say they’re ready for a fight. This year more than ever Americans are relying on the US Postal Service to help choose their next president. But this whole drama has created doubt in a system many have trusted. They need it to work.
Because this election? It’s expected to be a close one.