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Voter Rights For Mail-In (Absentee) And In-Person Voting, Part 2

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
October 20, 2020

In this article, we continue our discussion on voter rights for vote-by-mail (absentee) and in-person voting, and answer the following questions:

  • What are the advantages of voting by mail?
  • What are the disadvantages of voting by mail?
  • Do I have to qualify for an absentee ballot?
  • How do I request an absentee ballot?
  • How do I return an absentee ballot?

In our last article, we touched on your rights as a voter and whether those rights extend to voting by mail. In this article, we do a deeper dive into the voting by mail process and why it may be particularly important in this election season.

Data for local elections, early voting, and the percentage of constituents requesting absentee ballots is, unsurprisingly, showing a massive increase in the number of people voting by mail. The Covid-19 pandemic is leading the push for more mail-in-voting, subsequently casting a spotlight on certain state’s guidelines and restrictions over the process of qualifying, receiving, and casting an absentee ballot. This election season will provide a trial-by-fire for the country’s ability to process a massive amount of absentee ballots and highlight the various advantages and disadvantages of voting my mail.

What Are The Advantages Of Voting By Mail?

The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing legislatures to consider the pros and cons of voting by mail and how best to handle those in their region. Again, for the majority of states, absentee voting is a given, but in general, there are some advantages to the process:

  • Convenience and satisfaction: Being able to vote from home is not only a major convenience, especially for those who are able to be home on election day, but it allows the voters to take their time in picking their vote, increasing the likelihood that they will conduct meaningful research before making their pick.
  • Decreasing costs to the state and county: Increasing access to mail-in-voting decreases the need for staffing physical polling places.
  • Increased turnout: Research has shown that the option to vote by mail may increase voter turnout. It only makes sense that having the option to simply mail in your ballot is a much lower hurdle for those who travel a lot, have difficulty getting to the polling center, don’t live near a polling center, etc.

But what about the disadvantages posed by mail-in-voting? No system is perfect, and any inherent disadvantages of mail-in-voting will certainly be highlighted by the massive increase in volume this election. Some disadvantages may include, but are not limited too:

  • Financial considerations: While the ease of absentee voting may reduce the cost of staffing polling centers and providing voting machines, this might be offset by increased printing costs, changes to current vote-counting systems, and potential postage costs.
  • An increase in voter “errors” or “residual votes”: Voting machines will immediately tell a voter whether they have made a mistake, usually making too many or too few selections on the ballot, and the voter must fix the mistake before the machine will allow the ballot to be submitted. But absentee voting relies entirely on the directions provided and the voter’s ability to understand and follow those directions. Incorrectly completed ballots will be returned to the voter for correction.
  • Disparate effect on some populations: Unfortunately, the same populations that are reported to be underserved by in-person voting, such as Native American populations, low-income regions, and non-native English speaking populations, don’t fare much better with in-person voting.
  • Influence and coercion: Voting in a polling place is a very private event. Friends and family members have no chance to lord over your choice at a polling center, whereas voting at home exposes you to the immediate presence and influence of friends and family members.
  • Results take longer: Mail-in-voting is inherently slower than voting through a polling machine.

Do I Have To Qualify For An Absentee Ballot?

Generally, no. As discussed in Part 1 of the series a majority of states have “no-excuse” absentee voting, meaning that you will automatically receive an absentee ballot, or just have to request one through the proper channels. The remaining states will require an excuse for voting by mail, the list of excuses includes:

  • Out of the country on election day
  • Illness or disability
  • Being older than a certain age (usually 65+)
  • Working during all voting hours
  • Being a student living outside the country
  • Working at a polling center
  • Religious belief or practice
  • ACP* participant
  • Incarcerated but still eligible to vote
  • Jury duty

Each state has its own list of excuses that are considered viable for receiving an absentee ballot. The easiest way to find this information is by searching your state’s voting website.

How Do I Request An Absentee Ballot?

Each state has its own process for requesting an absentee ballot, but a majority of states will allow requests by filling out and mailing an absentee ballot application or taking the application to an election official’s office. Some states also have an online portal for requesting an absentee ballot. Lastly, the ability of qualified third parties to distribute and collect absentee ballots is allowed in all states, but many have restrictions and deadlines associated with the process.

How Do I Return An Absentee Ballot?

All states allow the return of a completed absentee ballot through the mail, and nearly all states allow the return of a completed absentee ballot to their local election official’s office. Some states also allow voters to drop off their absentee ballots on Election Day at voting locations and in secure drop boxes.

We hope this series has cleared up any confusion you may have on absentee voting and your rights. For more detailed information we recommended visiting your state or county’s voting and election website, such as the Illinois State Board Of Elections website.

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Voter Rights For Mail-In (Absentee) And In-Person Voting, Part 2

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