How could we be voting during this upcoming election?
There are many questions surrounding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), but one that continues to loom over the heads of government officials is how the public will exercise their right to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
Debates are currently circulating over whether voting in person, digitally or through mail is the best option to keep people safe. While some fear the ballots will be misrepresented, others are concerned for the health of voters and volunteers.
“Since Wisconsin’s election, state health officials said Tuesday that 19 people who have either voted in-person or worked at a polling site on election day have so far tested positive for COVID-19 after April 9,” ABC News reporter Kendall Karson said.
The call for alternative voting has had many state officials searching for secure and efficient ways for registered voters to cast their votes in November. The two main alternatives are digital voting and mail in voting.
According to Steve Gorbaman, senior vice president and chief technology officer at McAfee, voting digitally can be tricky.
“Digital voting through a website or a mobile app brings with it not only the possibility of user error, but also the possibility that a cyber campaign using malware or other techniques could manipulate or change citizens’ votes at scale with greater ease,” Gorbman said.
While there is a chance for greater voter turnout if digital voting options were created, some agree with Gorbman’s opinion that the risks of voter error or post submission alteration outweighs the positive effects. The major risks associated with online voting places mail in voting at the top of the list.
Vote-by-mail ballots are an increasingly popular alternative to in-person voting, given social distancing initiatives. A recent study suggests the virus can only survive on paper or cardboard for 24 hours, making mail in voting a safer alternative than in person voting.
Increasing voter participation was a problem that many attempted to combat before the pandemic struck, but now some wonder whether alternative voting practices could increase voter turnout.
The New York Times reported that a study in 2013 found voting by mail increased voter turnout by two to four percentage points. Additionally, a Harvard Caps Harris Poll conducted earlier this month reported 72 percent of respondents were in favor of voting by mail, with just 28 percent against it.
While remote voting may seem like a simple solution to a national problem, the process of implementing it is not as easy as it seems. Though the majority of the participants voted in favor of mail in ballots, critics say it can lead to voter fraud.
President Donald Trump has warned against voting by mail, claiming it would lead to an unfair advantage for Democrats.
“Mail ballots, they cheat. You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said, though he offered no evidence to back this claim.
However, Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic recalls how citizens have already voted by mail in the past. According to Brownstein, case studies like the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey have indicated that Republicans and Democrats shared similar voter turnouts when voting by mail in 2016.
Within the nation there are five states that have transitioned to almost 100 percent mail in voting. Right now, 28 states already offer automatic mail in voting, and Brownstein notes that the remaining “17 [states] also allow residents to request mail ballots because of illness or disability, a provision that could allow for broader access this fall.”
Whether the exception will be made is still up for discussion, but six swing states—Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—already present their voters with the option to mail in their ballots, which eliminates any concern one might have regarding November election results.
“In times of a global pandemic, the trust of the public in its government is more critical than ever … Given that there are increasing levels of inherent distrust in political systems, we must use the technology that is a trusted common denominator by the broadest swath of the electorate,” Gorbman said. “Ironically, paper is that technology in 2020.”