In three days, Americans will file out to elect a new president to lead the country for the next four years. Already, more than 16 million people have voted early and many others are expected to so before November 3.
Vote- by-mail will be a major factor in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election; not that it has not always been there, but the campaign and attendant success of spirited moves to expand the net and include more mail-in voters have made the controversy-ridden race even more interesting.
This year, mail-in votes will have much more implications on election outcomes in states as the scope becomes wider. Joe Biden’s Democrats and President Donald Trump’s GOP have had a rough struggle on this.
Although the U.S. Constitution defines how federal elections are held, in Article One and Article Two and various amendments, state law regulates most aspects of electoral law, including primaries, eligibility of voters (beyond the basic constitution definition), the running of each state’s electoral college and the running of state and local elections.
All 50 states, except North Dakota, require that U.S. citizens wishing to vote be registered; and this has to be traditionally done at state offices. However, in the mid-1990s, during the George W. Bush’s administration, the federal government made efforts to ease the registration process and increase voter turnout.
The “Motor Voter” law (National Voter Registration Act) of 1993 required state governments that receive some level of federal funding to make the voter registration process easier by providing a uniform process through drivers’ licence registration centres, disability centres, schools, libraries and mail-in registration.
The six swing states — Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina — and 27 others allow “no excuse absentee,” where no reason is required to request a mail-in ballot. The 17 other states require valid reason before a mail-in ballot will be approved for an intending voter.
Basically, voters opt to vote by mail for reasons of age, infirmity, ill health and travel, which make it difficult for a voter to be physically present. In this case, the voter requests a mail-in ballot and mails back the vote to the local electoral authority. A significant source of Absentee ballots is the American population living outside the United States.
Interestingly, despite its pervasiveness, vote-by-mail has been a source of controversy between Republicans and Democrats.
While Democrats and other voting rights groups argue that mail-in voting protects voters from the deadly COVID-19 and that failure to guarantee the option amid a pandemic could disenfranchise millions of Americans, especially the poor and African Americans who are deemed to be more vulnerable to the virus and tend to vote Democratic, President Trump and his Republican allies have attacked the idea as vulnerable to voter fraud.
Florida Republicans are in alignment with President Trump in opposing an all-mail election, but the state party openly embraced it as a reliable means of turning out their base. Under a Republican-led legislature in 2002, Florida began to allow “no excuse” mail-in voting and over the last two general elections in 2016 and 2018.
The Guardian gathered that Florida Republicans have managed to maintain a solid 55,000 vote edge over Democrats as a result of mail-in voting.
The Republican Party of Florida and two national GOP organisations were said to have recently asked a federal judge to intervene in a lawsuit brought by several Democratic-leaning organisations to try to force Florida to extend the deadline that mail ballots can be received, to pay return postage for mail ballots and tweak other rules related to mail ballots.
Already in its sixth day in Florida, the ongoing 2020 US. Presidential Election Reporting Seminar, which will culminate in holistic coverage of the November 3 election, Friday agreed that, with the spike in the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic would substantially change voters’ behavior.
Anchor of the 12-day Journalism programme, Ms Liz Dorn of the East-West Center, however, noted that it would be difficult to determine how.
Ms Dorn noted that an average of 41 and 51 percent of registered voters participate in presidential elections in the United States.
The Guardian interacted with some first-time voters at South Florida University. Although 40 percent of the first-time voters would want to have a physical experience, many of them preferred vote-by-mail as a safety measure against COVID-19.
22-year-old Alexandria Wallman, a first-time voter who registered as an Independent, thinks that Coronavirus would be an important factor in the 2020 U.S Presidential election. ”I don’t want to die of coronavirus, she told The Guardian, explaining why she would prefer mail-in voting to “standing 12 hours” on queue on election day. “Mail-in vote is better,” Wallman said. The excited undergraduate said she had not been able to get his mail-in ballot, a situation that could mar her chances of participating in the crucial voting process on Tuesday.
However, another first-time voter, 20-year-old Alexis King a, Psychology student of the university, said she had to take advantage of the early voting window to cast her ballot last week, as she would want to have a feel of in-person voting, not the mail-in option at her disposal. ”I did not want the mail-in voting,” she told The Guardian.