Mail-in ballots for the 2020 Election:

Are they safe, who should use them, how to use them, and why is Texas being the worst?

Check out the audio version of this article on my podcast: Click Here to listen!

During the Civil War of the 1860s, soldiers living in encampments wanted to vote in the presidential election of 1864, but there was one problem: they weren’t in their home states nor had access to vote in person.

Enter mail-in voting.

Before the civil war, the only state that allowed absentee voting was Pennsylvania. However, as thousands of men remained deployed in locations far from home during the course of the war (from 1862-1865), 20 northern states changed laws to allow soldiers the ability to vote by mail. 1 

The controversy that ensued next was similar to what we are experiencing now. The issue of mail-in voting was officially partisan with one side supporting the soldiers and absentee voting and the other fearing that the results would be tampered with. They didn’t want to allow those votes to be submitted. After 9 state supreme court hearings, 4 denied the ability and 5 agreed to it. However, by the end of the 1800s, most states had expanded their laws to allow absentee voting. And as it stands now, over the past century and a half, the risks of absentee voting have been completely invalidated.

As much as Trump has been crop-dusting his false and unfounded statements about the risks of mail-in voting and the postal service, it continues to be a very logical and trustworthy system. In fact, there is absolutely no evidence that mail-in voting increases electoral fraud. 1 And this claim is supported by The National Geographic, a very comprehensive analysis from the Washington Post, political science experts, and even the commission investigation appointed by Trump himself into voter fraud by mail.

Oh and by the way, Trump himself votes via absentee ballot in Florida. 2

What’s Covered in this Article

  • What Mail-in voting is
  • The Difference Between Mail-in and Absentee Voting
  • What States Allow Mail-in or Absentee Voting
  • The Texas Democratic Party Vs. Abbott
  • Is Mail-in Voting Safe
  • Why you should vote by mail in the 2020 elections (your vote matters)
  • Why Texas (and other states) are Resisting Mail-In Voting

Texas: The Resistence to Mail-in Voting

As we all gear up for this upcoming election, that happens to be inconveniently positioned smack dab in the middle of a pandemic, most regions are looking toward the expansion of mail-in ballots to address the health concerns surrounding coronavirus and make sure that everyone that has the ability to do so, can vote… well, except Texas. 

Ah yes, Texas. The Lone Star State. You know what they say, everythang’s bigger in Texas… Well, except population. Of course, California takes the W there. Oh and uh, land area size, that would be Alaska. Annnnnd largest building in the U.S belongs to New York, with the One World Trade Center… oh and certainly not the push to expand mail-in voting. That’s definitely smaller, if not the smallest in Texas. 

It is clear that Texas is making it strategically difficult and confusing to vote by mail-in ballot… for certain people. People who don’t fit a Republican profile, that is. As a matter of fact, there’s been a battle in the state’s supreme court “Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott” about the discriminatory rules laid out for voting by mail that serve to support the Republican party.

Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott

In a summary of the case, Justia Law mentioned:

“During the Coronavirus pandemic, Texas Governor Abbott postponed the May 2020 primary runoff elections to July 14; doubled the period for early voting by personal appearance; and declared that election officials would issue further guidance on social distancing and other precautions. The Democratic Party sought injunctive and declaratory relief that those eligible to vote by mail include all “eligible voter[s], regardless of age and physical condition . . . if they believe they should practice social distancing in order to hinder the known or unknown spread of a virus or disease.” The state trial court granted a preliminary injunction; an interlocutory appeal stayed the injunction. Texas Attorney General Paxton issued a statement, indicating that fear of contracting the Virus unaccompanied by a qualifying sickness or physical condition does not constitute a disability under the Texas Election Code for purposes of receiving a ballot by mail.

The plaintiffs filed federal claims that Texas’s rules for voting by mail discriminate by age, restrict political speech, are unconstitutionally vague, and that Paxton’s open letter was a threat constituting voter intimidation. The Fifth Circuit denied relief, referring to the district court’s “audacity” in entering a sweeping preliminary injunction, weeks before the election, that requires officials to distribute mail-in ballots to any eligible voter who wants one. The Constitution principally entrusts the safety and the health of the people to politically accountable state officials The spread of the Virus has not given unelected federal judges a roving commission to rewrite state election code.” 9

Oh, and did I mention that all 9 justices on the Texas Supreme Court, as well as the attorney general, are Republican? Not too challenging to see what the outcome of the decision to expand mail-in ballots to everyone will be. 

I actually went to the Texas government website and downloaded the application pdf to see what the process would be like if I was a Texas resident… and the answer is: it is a hassle and I could definitely see how it would be confusing to many people

Why is Texas Making it Harder to Vote by Mail?

“The cynical explanation is that the intent here is to make it as easy as possible for Republicans to vote by mail but discouraging others and casting doubt over the process following the lead of the president. I think that’s a real fine needle to thread.” 8

Texas is only making it hard to vote by mail for those who aren’t voting Republican. Point blank. I’ll explain even more in a moment. 

You see, Texas belongs to a group of 5 states in which “in-person” voting remains the only option unless the voter falls into an approved reason not related to the Coronavirus. 3

In Texas, the only approved reasons that someone can vote by mail are:

  • 65 years of age or older
  • Disability
  • Expected absence from the country 
  • Confinement in jail

The other 4 states following suit with Texas are: Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana. All of these states, including Texas, Trump won by 5 or more points in. 

Now don’t get me wrong, Texas is definitely cool in some ways. It gave us frickin’ Beyonce for buddha’s sake. So don’t think I’m dragging that state through the mud. But I am taking a very firm opposing stance to their voting policies in place strategically making it a hassle for certain people (Democrats) to vote. For example, in Texas, you can’t register to vote online, you can’t register to vote after October 5th, you have to carry government-issued photo identification, and you have to go through an application process before you an even get your absentee ballot sent to you… that is, if you qualify for one.

According to the Texas Tribune, Texas kept its strict eligibility criteria and fought to fend off efforts by state Democrats, civil rights groups, and individual voters to expand eligibility through the courts. That’s left in place automatic eligibility for voters who are 65 and older — a group of voters who are much more likely to be white and generally considered to make up part of the Texas GOP’s base.8

The elections lawyer and professor at the University of California Irvine said:

“The cynical explanation is that the intent here is to make it as easy as possible for Republicans to vote by mail but discouraging others and casting doubt over the process following the lead of the president. I think that’s a real fine needle to thread.” 8

To have an election strategy centered around shady tactics and voter suppression is pretty despicable in my eyes. This is why I take issue with what has been happening and what continues to happen in Texas. The same sentiment holds true for most of the south in general.10 So I’m not surprised at the resistance to allowing mail-in voting for everyone, especially considering we are in the middle of a public health crisis… I’m just disappointed. 

Let’s take a brief pause and discuss the intricacies of mail-in voting. 

What is Mail-in Voting?

Mail-in voting is very simple conceptually: it simply means that you are casting your vote via mail. That being said, what it’s called and the steps you need to take to actually receive your ballot through the mail and then to submit it, those differ by location. The two terms that states use to refer to mail-in voting are: absentee and mail-in.

Absentee vs Mail-in Voting

Whether these two terms are interchangeable or not is largely predicated on the states using the term. But for all intents and purposes, they basically mean voting by mail and the only difference is potentially in the reasoning behind it/who it’s available to. Ie: receiving your ballot in the mail, filling it out, and then mailing it in rather than going in-person to a location and casting your ballot. 

Does Mail-in Voting Give Democrats or Republicans an Advantage?

The short answer: neither. 

There was a recent study done by Stanford University that examined all of the elections in 3 states from 1996 all the way to 2018 surrounding mail-in voting. The verdict? That there is absolutely no partisan advantage to mail-in voting. 

Why Vote by Mail in the 2020 Elections

Simply: long lines and crowded polling locations could lead to a boom in new cases of the coronavirus. Considering that public health officials have been warning of a second wave coming in the fall, it’s important for all of us to be social distancing. Also, it sidesteps many of the obstacles put in place to suppress certain in-person voters.

How Does Mail-in Voting Work?

The New York Times gives a pretty solid and concise overview of the whole process that you can check out here

So there’s a series of checks in place that election officials go through to vet mail ballots including verifying registration information to make sure the state lines up, as well as, checking details like birth certificates and social security numbers to make sure it’s a real human who is voting by mail. And almost every state requires a signature on the outside of the envelope and those are cross-referenced to make sure they line up. Now there are even unique bar codes used for certain individuals in certain states that allow you to basically track your mail-in vote like you would a package. When problems are found on a ballot, officials reach out to the individual to clarify and/or send it to prosecutors to investigate. 

Is Voter Fraud a Problem?

Voter fraud, at polling locations or by mail, is very rare. 6 According to Patch, The Brennan Center for Justice has described vote-by-mail fraud as “infinitesimally small.” 7

But what is a giant problem are the increased restrictions put in place to make it more difficult for people to vote in the first place. Voter suppression. Closing polling locations, moving polling locations without properly informing everyone, and not just a select few. 

According to the New York Times, “Experts say that the mail-voting system is more vulnerable to fraud than voting in person, but that both were limited to isolated cases, often in local elections. One of the most prominent cases was the 2018 race for North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, in which an operative who rounded up absentee ballots for the Republican candidate was charged with election fraud.

But that case, experts said, also highlighted that any fraud big enough to tilt a major election — stealing enough envelopes out of mailboxes, printing enough fake ballots or harvesting enough absentee votes — would be incredibly difficult to hide at the district, state or national level.

With certain states where almost all voters cast absentee votes, like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, they’ve used things called drop boxes to cast their votes. Which are basically large, much more secure, mailboxes that you allow you the ability to directly place your ballot into. They have security cameras and have been used before in elections. We know these work and that they have proven to be a good option. However, according to NPR, “The Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have even gone to court to try to block Pennsylvania from using such boxes in November, arguing they could increase the chances for fraud.” The reason? As it’s poised now, Pennsylvania is going to be a pretty important key state, and 

Quite simply: all methods of voting have the potential for fraud. All of them. But it’s widely accepted by experts that mail-in has a very low probability. 

How to Cast a Mail-in Vote in Texas?

Click here and follow the steps outlined by someone who has far greater knowledge than I do on the process. 

The Big Problem with Mail-in Ballots: Mistakes in Filling them out

If you are inexperienced with voting, you might not fill in the bubble quite right, or write something where it isn’t supposed to be written, or forget to sign something. Etc etc etc.  It’s really important to be careful and read everything when you get your mail-in ballot. 

Bringing Back the Power of a Just Democratic Process

The concept of not wanting certain people to have the ability to vote by mail has always been a political power play at its core. How it played out during war times was this: it was common knowledge that soldiers during the Civil War would overwhelmingly vote in favor of the party of their commander-in-chief. So if a political party was in opposition to that, they would try to undermine and reject the processes allowing the soldiers to vote, because it wouldn’t benefit their party. Not because they were genuinely concerned about the legitimacy of the process. 5

And that’s exactly what’s happening now. You see Trump tout support for the republican-lead states and the mail-in voting system in certain areas in lieu of other areas and at its core, all it is, is a way to suppress voters who aren’t in alignment with him. A way to push a corrupt agenda and a way to disrupt a fair democracy. And I for one, won’t stand for it. 

A just and fair democracy is founded on our participation. Our voices. It relies on us constantly standing up for what’s right and fighting against what’s unfair… time and time again. It means sharing fact-based information. It means questioning the intentions and motives of those in positions of power, from time to time. And it means getting involved in the political process in all regions, not just those with which we reside. It’s our duty to support all of the people who aren’t being fairly represented in Texas and any other state for that matter, including our very own California. So get out there, spread the word, and gosh dang it, let’s get a more progressive South. 

Here’s to getting out there and making a difference.

Happy voting. 

For additional resources page: click here.

*I will only send you things you're interested in... Ain't nobody got time for spammy email ish!