Absentee Ballot’s Role During a Global Pandemic


Abby Turner, Writer

Voting is a key component to American democracy, but it’s being threatened by the global pandemic of the coronavirus. Citizens who fear to go to essential places like the grocery store or the gas station are unlikely to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a line at a polling station. This is the harsh reality striking many states as they hold their primary elections, but what will the future of voting look like in the upcoming presidential election in November.

Absentee ballots were present before the coronavirus outbreak, but now they are being utilized more than ever. The state of Ohio moved their primary to April 28th after deeming in-person voting a public health emergency. The primary will take place through absentee ballots, which may take weeks to receive after requesting a ballot. A voter must fill out a request for an absentee ballot, receive and complete the ballot, and then mail it back all before the primary deadline. This has always been the process for obtaining an absentee ballot, but there are issues with the system. In 2018, more than 430,000 mail-in ballots were not counted because they arrived late or the voter’s signature did not match that on file. Some voters were not notified of the error on their ballot, believing their vote was cast in the election. Even more ballots could face the same fate if the country switches to an all mail-in ballot election in November.

An extensive switch like this requires a whole logistical change in the way county board of elections receive and count the influx of absentee ballots and increased voter education on the importance of timely action when submitting an absentee ballot. States have different rules on how absentee ballots can be counted. Some states may still count ballots if they were postmarked by the day of the election, while other states will only count ballots if received by election day. An easy solution would be to impose a set standard for the way absentee ballots are counted, but unfortunately, elections are a state, not a federal, power. Clear communication will be needed in each specific state about the rules set for absentee ballots.

While mail-in voting may seem like the safest option in the time like this, it is a lot more flawed than in-person voting. There are different rules in each state, some saying absentee ballots can only be used by a person with a signed health excuse. If states want to break these barriers, they must act quickly in terms of their primary elections, but some state legislatures are out of session due to the coronavirus. Voters may also fill out the ballot wrong without an election official to guide them, such as marking too lightly or accidentally skip a section on the ballot.

Those in Washington are currently debating the best processes to handle voting during a pandemic. President Donald Trump opposes mail-in voting, where every registered voter is sent an absentee ballot. He claims these ballots can be susceptible the voter fraud, such as 3rd parties collecting voters ballots to turn them into the county board of elections. But his Republican party has a different standpoint, they have and will preach for the use of absentee ballots. Many Republican governors have suggested the use of absentee ballots to avoid the public health risk presented by in-person voting. But Democrats claim to see through the Republicans push for absentee ballots, claiming they want to encourage their party voters while suppressing Democratic voters. Republicans want to only send ballots to those who request them, avoiding duplicates or deceased voters receiving ballots. But Democrats claim this strategy will harm minority voters, who may not have the need to request a ballot. An approach that may be beneficial to both parties is sending active voters ballots, like what is done in Georgia. But it still leaves those who are not active at a disadvantage when trying to request their own absentee ballots.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, democracy in America must persist. Voting must occur one way or another, ensuring the safety of voters. A rapid influx of absentee ballot requests will shake the voter system but will allow for changes in the future. Although it shouldn’t take a global pandemic to realize the lack of support for the absentee voting system, voting in this manner will be forever changed.