Leslie A. Farber
What are Your Voting Options in November?
As COVID-19 continues to spread in states across the U.S., greater consideration is being given to alternatives to in-person voting for the November 3rd general election. While in-person voting will still be an option in many states, including New Jersey and New York, there has been a broad move to expand vote-by-mail options so that people will not have to risk their health by voting at traditional polling sites. This has heightened concerns about whether or not election officials can ensure that all mailed ballots are properly counted in November. Some politicians also have made unsupported claims about a potential for voter fraud.
One of the key causes of concern is whether or not the United States Postal Service (USPS) will be able to handle what many experts predict will be a surge in mailed ballots as voters attempt to avoid crowded polling places. In July, postmaster general Louis DeJoy announced a series of cost-cutting measures, including the continued removal of mailboxes and restricting staff overtime and transportation costs, which led to backlogs in mail delivery across the country. Very recent court decisions have reversed some of those changes. In mid-August, the USPS notified 46 states that it could not guarantee that all mailed votes cast in November would arrive in time to be counted.
Responding to accusations that the cost-cutting moves were part of a plan by the Trump administration to disrupt mail voting, the USPS pledged to suspend many of the proposed reforms until after the election. However, supporters of vote-by-mail are stepping up efforts to ensure all ballots are properly counted.
A total of 34 states plus the District of Columbia have moved to vote-by-mail in recent years in order to make it more convenient to vote. There are two kinds of mail balloting systems: universal vote by mail and absentee balloting. In 2016, nearly one-quarter of U.S. votes were cast by mail. If public concern over the coronavirus continues, some of these states may extend their absentee voting options to the general election.
There remain questions about how mail balloting operates, what its political consequences are, and whether the use of mail ballots increases electoral fraud. However, despite partisan fears, research suggests neither party gains an advantage. Voter fraud in the U.S. is rare, and according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, there is no evidence that mail balloting increases electoral fraud as there are anti-fraud protections built into the process that make it difficult to impersonate voters or steal ballots.
Some election officials are hoping to bypass the Postal Service and lessen the public health risk by installing ballot drop boxes. Such boxes have been used successfully in states like Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. As of early August, most states where vote-by-mail is allowed had begun installing drop boxes next to polling sites and other locations to maximize voter access. In New York, where the election system was overwhelmed by the number of absentee ballots during the primary, state Sen. Brad Hoylman has introduced legislation authorizing local Boards of Elections to establish secure absentee ballot drop box locations ahead of the November election.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission recommends that one drop box be installed for every 15,000 to 20,000 registered voters. Typical security measures for drop boxes include video surveillance, locks, tamper-resistant seals and chain-of-custody logs that are completed each time ballots are collected. But the move toward drop boxes is not without controversy. Tennessee’s Secretary of State recently told a U.S. Senate committee that he feared drop boxes were a security concern. In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee sued the secretary of state and county Boards of Election over drop box use in the primary.
With so much uncertainty around voting in this year’s election, voters need to be proactive. The New Jersey Division of Elections has a voter information portal where you can find everything you need to know about when, where, and how to vote. Information about voting options in New York can be found online as well.
Remember, every vote matters. If you have questions about your voting rights or options, call us at 973-509-8500 x213 or email LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.