Updated: May 12
The global pandemic has turned daily routines sideways from everyday household tasks to the nation's 2020 Primary that will determine party candidates for the next presidential election in November. As federal and state agencies prohibit unnecessary public gatherings, mail-in balloting was developed to enable voters a safer means of expressing their party's presidential pick. The problem with upending traditional voting is it stirs mistrust, even when done under the guises of adhering to public health guidelines. Mail-in ballots quickly came under fire with skeptics expressing worry that it would invite tampering and open up opportunities to manipulate the outcomes. Defenders noted that the United States Postal Service has strict policies and harsh criminal charges to discourage mail tampering. Federal mail theft is a felony and anyone charged with the crime can face up to five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000. But criminals with motives rarely worry about the consequences in the moment. American's concerns about the credibility of voting practices were heightened during the Muller investigation that pointed to Russian interference in the 2018 General Election. It was widely accepted that the foreign world power engaged tech-savvy companies to manipulate media stories to influence the election's outcomes. What was not conclusive was who may have instigated the meddling and the overarching purpose other than to derail the Clinton campaign. Americans learned that elections are vulnerable to criminal activity which may or may not influence the outcome. Additionally, other accusations of nationwide voter fraud in the 2018 presidential election went unsubstantiated. The popular vote doesn't necessarily determine the winner of a presidential election since the weight of the decision rests with the electoral college – a separate and hotly debated system among disgruntled voters and political science experts. General awareness of voter fraud rallied state election boards to review the integrity of their voting processes and any technology that could be vulnerable to hacking. Protective solutions vary from state to state. This increased awareness of security practices has some voters skeptical over using regular mail to cast their vote, and perhaps with good reason. The 2020 mail-in ballot displays personal information for anyone to see. Evildoers could be tempted to tamper with ballots since the sender's information on the return envelope identifies their party affiliation with "DEM" or "REP" below the postage-paid indicia and near the voter's name. Their required signature also appears on the exterior of the mailer which contradicts commonly accepted security practices. Fortunately, anyone mistrusting the postal service's handling of their ballot can hand-deliver it to their local Board of Elections office or a designated drop box location.
Voting by mail is nothing new since about 150,000 of the 1 million Union soldiers were able to cast their ballots from the battlefields in the 1864 presidential election. It became the first widespread use of non-in-person voting in American history. Letting soldiers vote from distant war zones has remained somewhat controversial but the worst fears of critics have never come to pass.
Voter participation could change with mail-in ballots. Until the primaries are tabulated, it won't be known if the alternate system encourages or discourages voters from participating. The at-home convenience and the extended deadline to submit a ballot could result in greater participation, however, apprehension over publicly exposing one's personal information could deter follow through. This year's Primary dry-run does allow time for balloting procedures to be evaluated before the 2020 November General Election if universal mail-in ballots are still in use. Additional security measures could be adopted in time to give voters peace of mind that the election outcome is a direct reflection of those who cast ballots. The timing of a newly appointed Postmaster General has also raised concerns over disrupted service at a time when the nation shouldn't be questioning the reliability of the mail. Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman and a top donor to President Trump and the Republican National Committee was a surprising choice to lead an apolitical board and an apolitical agency like the U. S. Postal Service. The agency lost money in six out of the 10 years from 2001 through 2010, according to financial reports. Though the Postal Service is bleeding money, it receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products, and services to fund its operations. DeJoy's primary job, according to the White House, will be to restructure the failing service that has experienced even deeper losses due to shuttered, non-essential businesses since the onset of the pandemic. The November General Election is months away but as each day passes, and the number of COVID-19 cases increases, the possibility of mail-in balloting is not unlikely. Voters may need to embrace an alternate way of electing a president to lead them through the greatest health and economic threat this generation of Americans has ever faced.