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Vote by mail: Here’s the ultimate guide for the U.S. election

After a crazy summer filled with protests for racial equality, COVID-19, and a few primaries, the 2020 election is less than two months away. It might be too early to release a guide to this year’s election, but this one will be different. With fears of the coronavirus fresh in everyone’s mind and going out a no-no for some people, mail-in ballots will be crucial for many voters. 

First, let’s debunk some rumors & conspiracy theories over mail-in ballots. There’s no perfect way to do an election. Every method has the opportunity for voter fraud, but according to Kim Wyman, Washington’s secretary of state, the chances of fraud happening with mail-in ballots is low. The Washington Post analyzed the 14.6 million votes cast in 2016 & 2018 and found 0.0025% were fraudulent. 

Washington State has both automatic voter registration & vote-by-mail for its residents. Their system makes the process open for citizens to follow their ballot from start to finish. 

Unique barcodes allow voters to track their ballot, much like a tracking number on a package. If something were to happen or it gets stolen, requesting a new ballot voids the original, and the original ballot gets flagged if submitted. The unique barcodes for each voter also make it incredibly difficult for a foreign nation to send a counterfeit ballot.  

If you aren’t in a state with automatic vote-by-mail, there’s a separate vote-by-mail application on your voter registration. It matches your vote-by-mail application to your voter registration information, so not just anyone can get a vote-by-mail ballot.  

In Washington, people have attempted to demonstrate flaws in the system by trying to register their dog. In fact, they proved the system works because they received a letter informing them the state knows they tried it – and that it’s a criminal act. 

According to The New York Times, Washington State identified seventy-four questionable votes in the 2016 election. Fifty-nine people who may have voted in multiple states, fourteen people who may have voted multiple times within the state, and one deceased voter. 

Wyman explained why votes from the deceased & mail for one person in multiple states come in. Votes from the deceased usually come from the deceased’s spouse, who wanted to submit one last vote for them. Votes for one person in multiple states are mostly people think that’s what you are supposed to do when you own a house in more than one state. 

Other measures Washington State carries out to catch fraudulent votes are employing professionals to verify signatures on envelopes and notifying residents when there’s a discrepancy. There are also cameras kept on the ballot counters, which residents can watch.

So, what do you need to know about vote-by-mail? Vote-by-mail rules vary state to state, so it’s imperative you look up your state’s rules. Some states are extremely strict about vote-by-mail while others make it automatic, so there’s a spectrum of rules. 

More restrictive states like Alabama & Texas require an excuse to receive a mail-in ballot – both take it a step further. Alabama requires a notary be present when filling out your ballot. Texas needs to have received (not postmarked) applications & ballots by a particular date. Some states don’t consider COVID fears as an excuse.  

For this year’s election, California & many other states that don’t do automatic vote-by-mail will send its residents a ballot in the mail. Before, California blended the two methods. There’s no excuse needed to vote-by-mail in the state, but you can mail your ballot in, turn it into your polling place, or place it at a designated drop off location. 

If you plan to vote-by-mail this election, submit everything as early as possible. The sooner things get to your registrar’s office, the better. The result is that you’ll get your ballot earlier, and you’ll have more time to fill it out. So, spend time looking up all the candidates & measures on your ballot to make educated decisions. 

Mail-in ballots are not just a crucial tool for elections during a pandemic, but are amazing for voter turn out & participation. Researchers found neither party gets an advantage over the other and more people send them in fully filled out. If you have the opportunity to vote-by-mail this election, do so. Don’t lose your right to vote just because you’re afraid of contracting the virus.

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