With the US presidential elections less than three months away, the US Postal Service (USPS) is at the centre of a row with Democrats demanding that more Americans be given access to mail-in voting, and Republicans opposing this on the ground that it would increase chances of fraud.
Why is a postal ballot critical now?
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many states have made mail-in voting accessible to more voters. However, slower mail deliveries over the last few months, including for medicines, have raised concerns about how the USPS will handle an influx of mail-in ballots. The USPS has warned that these ballots may not reach in time to be counted.
While Democrats are calling for wider mail-in voting, they are also concerned about changes in the methods of processing mail initiated by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. These include clamping down on overtime and halting late delivery trips, which will effectively delay mail-in ballots.
On Sunday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, in a letter accused President Donald Trump of sabotaging the election by “manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters”. Pelosi referred to DeJoy as a “crony” who “continues to push forward sweeping new operational changes that degrade postal service, delay the mail, and – according to the Postal Service itself – threaten to deny the ability of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming elections in a timely fashion”.
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What is President Trump’s stand?
Trump does not favour mail-in voting. Many Republicans are of the view that mail-in voting will favour Democrats — in essence, they believe that more voters (especially low-income and non-white ones) will mean more votes for Democrats. Trump has alleged that voting by mail will lead to fraud in the election process.
Various studies, in fact, suggest that there is no evidence that mail-in voting leads to greater chances of fraud. A Stanford University study in April said that while mail-in ballots offer greater convenience to voters and may increase voter turnout “modestly”, it had no particular advantages for any party. In 2017, the Brennan Center for Justice estimated the risk of ballot fraud at between 0.00004-0.00009%.
How does mail-in voting work?
While every state offers mail-in voting, their rules differ. Some states allow mail-in voting in special circumstances only. These circumstances include illness, injury, disability or being a student at an out-of-state college or university. Once local election authorities have received such a request, they will send a ballot to the address of the voter after vetting the application. The voter then casts their vote and signs the envelope and mails the ballot back to the election authorities.
States that require reasons for mail-in ballot include Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, all Republican-controlled. Democrat-controlled New York also requires a reason for mail-in ballots.
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On the other hand, in view of the pandemic, some states have allowed absentee voting for all. These include Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Michigan among others. Other states such as California, Nevada and Vermont will mail a ballot to every registered voter ahead of the elections. As per The New York Times, this year over 76% of Americans will be eligible to receive a ballot in the mail and roughly 80 million votes are expected to be cast this way.