How Mail-In Voting Works in the USA

Updated on December 21, 2021

According to rough estimates, at the last election of the United States President, about 62 million people voted by mail using letters. And this is a record for this system, but there are reasons for this. This article will discuss how voting by mail developed and why it’s so wildly popular today.

US Postal Voting History

The first voting using paper mail in the United States was in the 1864 presidential election. This system has been perfected and improved for more than 150 years. Initially, this voting option was available only to military personnel. Due to distrust of such a voting system, the first scandal occurred. The scandal’s reason was that most people who voted by mail were from the northern states.

At the moment, voting by mail in the United States is possible for people with disabilities and those citizens who cannot vote at their place of residence. In some states, anyone can vote by mail. The expansion of the possibilities of such voting is associated with a pandemic.

Voting by Mail in Numbers and Facts

Interestingly, about 150 million voters took part in the last presidential elections in 2020. That is, more than 40% of Americans voted by mail. Democrats are actively advocating this way of voting. Republicans, on the contrary, are trying to oppose this.

To ensure stable delivery of election correspondence, the State Post Office receives additional funding of $25 billion. The Postmaster General of the United States, Louis DeJoy, decided in the summer of 2020 to carry out massive changes and innovations at different levels. As a result, amid the elections, there were significant delays in letters and parcels and a great number of complaints.

DeJoy is a Trump supporter. In August 2020, 17 states filed a lawsuit against the White House administration, accusing the government of sabotaging the elections. The next day, DeJoy temporarily suspended the introduction of innovations in the post office work, but the process could no longer be stopped.

How the Voting Works

In the states that allow postal voting, the following procedure is established. To begin with, the voter needs to request and receive an absentee ballot. Most often, it is required to indicate the reason why postal voting is requested (illness, travel, etc.). But many states do not require a valid reason, and some states send ballots to all potential voters.

When submitting an application, you must specify your name and address. Then, the states send a ballot and two envelopes to the voter’s home address. The first is the “security” envelope necessary to ensure voting confidentiality, and the second is an “outer” envelope. The voter’s details (name and address) are indicated on the outer envelope.

When processing the results, the election authorities check the data on the outer envelope. They need to make sure that a person really lives at such an address and lives in this electoral district and, accordingly, has the right to vote here. After that, the outer envelope with personal data is removed. On election day, ballots are taken out from unnamed envelopes to maintain confidentiality. After that, they are counted together with the rest of the in-person voting ballots.

Differences in Various States

There are many questions about the relevance and transparency of such voting in our time. Each state independently determines the system of voting and counting of votes. The Federal Election Commission does not interfere in the processes but only ensures that everything complies with the norms of national legislation.

In general, the election system in the United States turns out to be somewhat decentralized. Therefore, the voting results may strongly differ not only in different states but also in districts within the same state. It reduces the possibility of vertical interference from the “higher powers.”

There are practically no polling stations in 5 states, and the overwhelming majority of votes are recorded there by mail. In addition to a paper letter, people abroad can vote by fax, e-mail, or upload a ballot to the election commission website.

From 2000 to 2012, 491 attempts of fraud in postal voting were recorded. It is also worth noting that, during this time, more than a billion votes got processed by mail.

Prospects of electronic voting

At the moment, it will not be possible to use the capabilities of virtual addresses and virtual mailboxes for voting by mail because ballots are sent only to the voter registration address. In addition, you need the original envelope and the ballot to send your “choice” to the address of the election commission.

The prospects of introducing a universal electronic voting system look vague, too. One of the reasons is the lack of Internet among poor Americans. Another reason causes even more confusion – the accusation of Russian hackers interfering in the US elections. After all, so far, there are no prerequisites or relevant facts for these accusations

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