Maya Mitchell, Opinions Co-Editor
As the 2020 elections are fast approaching, concerns are surrounding the safety of in-person voting.
Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has left over 229,000 Americans dead and 9 million infected, there have been many concerns over the safety of voting in person. Article 1 Section 4 of the Constitution gives states the power to determine “The Time, Places and Manners of holding elections.” As such, each state has different rules on how to vote and voter registration requirements. The most frequent ways Americans vote are by going to polling stations or voting booths.
But with fear of contracting the disease, states have been turning to an alternate form of voting. Absentee voting, otherwise known as mail-in voting, allows voters to send in their ballots via mail rather than the traditional in-person method.
Absentee voting dates back to pre-revolutionary times but was first used in the United States in the election of 1864, during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln wanted soldiers on the battlefield to be able to choose their next president regardless of where they were, so he allowed votes to be sent in by mail. In every war since, absentee ballots have been allowed for soldiers stationed overseas or outside their home state. Absentee voting later became open to non-military US citizens as well, but a reason was needed as to why they were voting absentee. In the 2016 election, around one-fourth of voters voted by mail.
Due to pandemic related worries, many states have turned to mail-in ballots as a way for citizens to participate safely in the election this year. For many Americans, particularly those who are more vulnerable to COVID-19, the 2020 election will be their first time voting by mail. Thirty-four states are allowing mail-in votes, with voters being allowed to state “no excuse” or COVID-19 as a justification for not voting in person. Nine states, including New Jersey, are mailing ballots directly to residents for them to fill out and send. Seven states are allowing mail-in voting, but require a reason other than COVID-19 to do so.
Procedures for mail-in voting varies by state. New Jersey is primarily voting via mail-in ballots in the upcoming presidential election. According to South Orange’s acting Village Clerk, Ojetti Davis, there are three main ways for New Jerseyans to vote in this year’s election. “You can deliver your ballot via postal mail, drop off your ballot in the ballot dropbox in town, or drop it off at the polling stations.” Both Maplewood and South Orange have mail-in ballot drop boxes and the contents are collected by the county every day. “It’s very secure,” Davis said. “No one is getting in there.”
Despite claims from the Trump administration of voter fraud through mail-in voting, vote-by-mail fraud occurs for about 0.00006% of every 250 million votes according to a study done by MIT.
However, mail-in voting is not without its issues. The voting process via mail is extremely precise and ballots can be disqualified on a number of grounds. It takes one mistake for a ballot and its vote to be removed from consideration. In the 2020 primaries, more than 550,000 mail-in and absentee ballots were disqualified for reasons including ballot postmarks, the signature or envelope malfunctions. There have also been reports of people receiving duplicate or fake ballots all across the country.
There have also been instances of outside interference with the mail-in voting process, also causing votes to be disqualified. This summer in a city council election in Paterson, NJ, 1 in 5 ballots were rejected due to improper placement and distribution of ballots, causing four men to get arrested for voter fraud.
At least 75% of the electorate this year will be able to vote via mail-in ballots. While this is not standard practice for most states (Oregon has been primarily voting by mail since 2000), it is a way for Americans to safely and efficiently participate in the 2020 election.
This year’s presidential election is a very important one for many Americans. Issues such as climate change, healthcare, COVID-19 and the economic recession are all key considerations as former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are going head-to-head on the ballot. However, changes in voting style and a global pandemic have not stopped local efforts to increase involvement in the election.
Columbia High School’s (CHS) Student Council voter registration initiative started back in March when they entered a contest where they had to submit a voter registration plan in hopes of getting money for prom. They lost, but it kicked off their efforts in voter registration.
Alongside the Students for Justice club, Student Council participated in High School Voter Registration Week to help CHS students who will be 18 by Nov. 3 register to vote. “Young people especially have low voter turnout, reasons being that they often don’t know how to register, don’t know how to get absentee ballots at their college, and don’t know how to actually vote, ” said Phoebe Holt-Reiss, ‘21, CHS senior class president and one of four others who led this event. “Even though we live in a highly democratic area and you think your vote doesn’t matter, it does! There’s proof that by voting sooner after you turn 18, you’re more likely to develop a habit of voting. And voting has never been easier!”
“Essentially, you can use your driver’s license or social security number to register, and the rest of the information that you enter are basic details like date of birth and address. If you’re using your social security number and are unable to make an electronic signature, you should register via paper,” explained Holt-Reiss. “When you’re 17, you’re pre-registering to vote, but when you’re 18 or older, you’re just registering to vote.” During national registration week in September, the student council was able to register 51 CHS students to vote.
Other CHS students are involved in the voting process for this year’s election, even if they are not able to vote due to age restrictions. “I decided to become a poll worker because I knew I couldn’t vote,” said Ruby Melman, ‘21. “My 18th birthday is a couple days after the election, so as you can imagine, I’m annoyed! I decided to work the polls to make a change.”
In New Jersey, people of any age can be poll workers. The only prerequisite is filling out a form for the state and going through training. “I would have to show voters where they should go, how they should vote, and the specific steps they need to take,” Melman described. Even though voting in New Jersey this year is primarily via mail, polling stations are open to drop off mail-in ballots and for people who are visually impaired and need to vote in person.
All mail-in ballots in New Jersey must be postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received by the sender’s county’s Board of Elections by Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. to be valid in the election.
For more information on polling stations and mail-in ballots in South Orange and Maplewood, please visit:
Designed by: Jack Kalsched