Mail-in voting is still not accessible for everyone

By Jacob Seitz, Staff Writer

This election season, a vast majority of the American population is likely going to vote by mail. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended just about everything in our American way of life, including the way we vote. 

Like anything else, voting by mail has become a divisive issue in the American political sphere. Democrats have pushed for it, at times spinning somewhat fantastical narratives about the post office’s ability to carry all the nation’s ballots. Republicans, on the other hand, have started to spin their own narrative about how voting by mail drives up the possibility of voter fraud—an argument they’ve used before that has nearly no basis in fact.

Mail-in voting seems like the future. The idea that no one will have to take time out of their day to go vote—instead casting their ballot from the comfort and safety of their own home—sounds great. And, as Robbie Shinder wrote in a recent Beacon piece, “It’s now easier than ever to vote without heading to the polls.”

I agree with Shinder. It’s easier to vote now than it has been in a long time. But not for everyone—not for young people, for minorities, for really anyone but white, older, middle-class and upper-class Americans.

In Florida’s 2018 election, mail-in ballots submitted by voters between the ages of 18 and 21 were rejected at nine times the rate of their older counterparts. In the same election, non-white voters were two times more likely to have their ballots rejected than white voters. In California, more than 100,000 ballots were rejected in this years primary, largely because of a missed deadline. Nationwide, more than 500,000 ballots were rejected in the 2020 primaries

Ballots can be rejected because of improperly marked boxes, an unverified signature, or no signature at all.

To count in the California primaries, ballots had to be mailed on or before Election Day and be received within three days of the election. Rejected ballots may not affect the presidential election in November (Hillary Clinton took California in 2016 by a 4.3 million vote margin). But they could affect closer house races. Democrat TJ Cox upset Republican David Valadao to represent California’s 21st Congressional District in 2018 by winning by less than 1,000 votes. Cox and Valadao will face off again this November. Not only do rejected ballots make it harder for some Americans to vote, but it throws the entire election process into turmoil, allowing whichever candidate loses in November to contest the election.

In some states, like California, voters will receive a ballot to their mailing address that they can change by filling out some paperwork and mailing it to their elections office. This not only requires people to have internet and access to a printer, but with 13.6 million people—or twice the population of Massachusetts—still unemployed, requiring people to pay for postage to vote safely is immoral at best and unconstitutional at worst. 

In Ohio, for example, a Republican-controlled budgetary board rejected the Ohio secretary of state’s plan to prepay postage for all of Ohio’s absentee ballots. Ohioans will likely have to pay for their own postage this fall, which puts Ohio—and every other state without prepaid postage on their ballots—in possible violation of the 24th Amendment, which abolished poll taxes. Further, the Supreme Court ruled in 1966 that “[a] State’s conditioning of the right to vote on the payment of a fee or tax violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” It is worth noting that courts around the country have ruled against classifying postage as a poll tax, but those were in states that had in-person voting as an option.  

Pre-paid return envelopes are the ideal option, but Postmaster General Louis DeJoy recently suggested states use first-class mail to get their ballots counted on time, a measure that would nearly triple the cost of postage for already cash-strapped states. 

On top of it all, mail-in voting also requires the voter to have an address to mail a ballot to, presenting an issue for the nation’s nearly 568,000 homeless people. Five states currently use an all-mail voting system: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. Utah and Washington requiring an ID or a social security number in order to register to vote in their elections. All five mail-in-only states require an address to mail a ballot to. Voting for homeless people in Hawaii has already become a trying issue, and voters in Arizona—which has incredibly strict voter ID laws—must request a ballot be mailed to them in order to vote.

Some counties are trying hybrid approaches. Orange County in California rolled out a new initiative this year that placed more than 100 secure drop boxes in the county while shuttering nearly 1,200 polling locations and replacing them with 188 voting centers, which the county hopes will boost voter turnout. These centers will be open ten days prior to the election, including weekends, and can provide a tailored ballot for any voter residing anywhere in the county. However, first-time voters voting in person in November are still required to show some kind of identification.

Mail-in voting has always been a pipe dream to get more people to the polls. It can alleviate some problems in our current voting system, but it brings with it a whole host of new challenges. As November quickly approaches, it’s important for us to realize that not everyone has the means to participate in our democracy. Voting is a right that should be afforded to all Americans, and accessibility to that supposed right should be something continually fought for.