Nov 3: Vote by mail or in person?
July 31, 2020 9:32 AM   Subscribe

The local election folks sent me instructions for requesting a mail-in ballot and I'm trying to decide whether to vote by mail or in person.

In the current climate it seems like having as many votes possible cast in person will be important because they will be counted right away and can be used as a counter to the president's FUD about voting by mail. I'm blessed in that voting in person is no problem for me this year, and I don't mind if I have to stand in line for a long time.

My only concern is missing the chance to vote at all if something goes haywire at the voting stations. What are your thoughts on the most reliable way to submit a vote this year? Any other pros/cons I'm missing?
posted by duoshao to Law & Government (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Does your local election board offer early voting? That's my current plan.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:37 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]

I would see if early voting or absentee in person exists and encourage every low risk person in your life to do that (in states with no history of mail in voting)
posted by sandmanwv at 9:37 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of us are asking this question. In the end, states will decide these kinds of things, not the federal government. In a red state, I might be more inclined to vote in person. In a blue one, I would vote by mail.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:38 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]

Vote by mail or early so you help by making lines shorter on election day.
posted by mightshould at 9:43 AM on July 31 [16 favorites]

Early voting is my plan. Given all the shenanigans at the USPS right now (due to Trump's appointee) I think the only way to ensure a vote is counted is to do so in person.

Barring that, if your state does not have early voting, get to the polling station early early early - like it's 1985 and you're trying to get tickets to see U2 kind of early.
posted by jzb at 9:46 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]

In my state, even if you have an absentee ballot you can turn it in and vote in person instead, so if that's the case in your system you could request the ballot and decide when it's closer. We also have the option of delivering the ballot to the polling location without waiting in line, which I do if I've procrastinated until voting day (I.e. nearly every time, also because I like knowing it won't get lost in the mail)

My personal plan this year is to mail in my ballot extra early.
posted by lemonade at 9:57 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

I get a mail-in ballot in my county. As a slight variation on lemonade's suggestion- I complete my ballot, then bring it to a polling station on election day (any one will do). I don't need to wait in line, and I don't need to trust the USPS for timely delivery.
posted by TDIpod at 9:59 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]

Also endorsing getting the mail-in ballot, then dropping it off in person at a polling station.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:06 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]

I love voting in person. I like the poll workers and the Historical Society bake sale and the elected officials there to say hello. 2 years ago, I left my lights on, and someone whose politics were clearly opposite cheerfully gave me a jumpstart and paid no attention to my Resist sticker. This year, I think I will vote as soon as early voting begins, because even if I get hit by a bus, my vote will still be count, and it is critical. I voted absentee in the primary, and handed in my ballot in person, so, since I'll be going to Town Hall anyway, will just vote there. 5 minutes indoors, everyone is masked, should be fine.
posted by theora55 at 10:11 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

I vote by mail from overseas over a month in advance every year, return my ballot via the normal postal system and I've never had a ballot go missing; my state tells me it's been received with a lookup tool on its elections website. So I say vote by mail as early as possible - and if you can, spend election day doing whatever possible to protect in-person voting for folks with no other option, even if it's just covering someone at work for a couple hours so they can go vote in person if they need to.
posted by mdonley at 10:13 AM on July 31 [6 favorites]

Voting by mail is super reliable, people are only doubting it because they've internalized the GOP's long-standing lies and voter suppression.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:19 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]

people are only doubting it because they've internalized the GOP's long-standing lies and voter suppression

I would normally agree with this, but there are widespread reports of problems at the USPS right now due to the new person appointed by Trump. Reports I've seen indicate mail is being delayed significantly in some cases, and as we get closer to the election I would not be at all surprised to see further problems.

At any other time this statement would be accurate, but not right now. People have good reasons to feel uncertain about the USPS right now.
posted by jzb at 10:25 AM on July 31 [6 favorites]

Many states have a lookup system where you can make sure your ballot has been received and your signature processed.

I am planning to vote by mail, likely through the post, as soon as I can after I get the ballot. Then I will go check the lookup system a few days later to make sure it has been received and the signature has been accepted.

Another possibility is drop boxes; some states start those before the day of the election, so you could take it in person but just drop off (reduces lines for those who eg need assistance to vote and have to do it in person). Again you may want to check that your signature has been verified a few days later.
posted by nat at 10:26 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]

Vote by mail or early so you help by making lines shorter on election day.

This, absolutely. Even if you don't mind standing in line for a hour, if you take 3 minutes and there are 200 people behind you, that's an additional (3*200/60=)10 hours of waiting you caused, with the attendant discomfort, disincentive, and health risk.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:33 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]

To find out options for returning an absentee ballot, phone your county elections official’s office, or check their website. In my county, I can return my ballot on or after October 5:

- At the registrar’s office during business hours
- At the 24-hour drop box outside the the registrar’s office
- At any city clerk’s office during business hours
- At staffed drive-up stations during specific hours the Friday through Monday before Election Day
- At any polling place in the county

California has a website where I can check my ballot status (received, accepted, counted). I can also sign up to get email and text message updates for my ballot status.
posted by ogooglebar at 11:18 AM on July 31

BTW, there’s no waiting in line to drop off a ballot at a polling place on Election Day, in my county.
posted by ogooglebar at 11:20 AM on July 31

I just sent in my request for an absentee ballot. Luckily my state doesn't require a reason. I hear the concerns about USPS. My county says: "Completed, witnessed absentee ballot envelopes may be returned to a one-stop site rather than the Board of Elections during the hours of Early Voting; however, absentee ballot envelopes may not be accepted on Election Day at the polls." So my plan is to walk it into an early voting site.
posted by tuesdayschild at 11:25 AM on July 31

Voting by mail is super reliable

The mail is reliable. Even this year it's going to be reliable but slower. That doesn't mean that state or county governments are reliable or honest.

If you live in a state where the governor or statewide election office (usually secretary of state) is Republican and there's even a remote chance of it going Democratic, vote in person to make it harder for them to just not count your vote.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:32 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]

I would mail in your ballot within a day or two of getting it. Are you sure they'll wait to count absentee ballots this year? I know some places have done that in years past, but perhaps this year there will be so many more that they'll start counting them sooner.

Also maybe I'm extra paranoid because I'm in Portland, but ... I would not count on things feeling the same in November as they do now. What if polling stations are closed? Also, if you can vote absentee, that makes it easier for folks who do vote on voting day.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:35 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

Something to consider about dropping off ballots at polling places: I couldn’t even get near three different polling places in the last primary election. I suspect that November will have even more people turning out.
posted by corey flood at 12:51 PM on July 31

Seconding what others have said about Vote By Mail.

Mail Votes are counted as they arrive in California so people who are doing the really hard work of going door to door to Get Out the Vote can see that you have already turned in your ballot and don't have to waste precious resources and can target people who have not voted yet.
posted by effluvia at 1:06 PM on July 31 [5 favorites]

Holy fuck, you're in the middle of a catastrophic pandemic! Vote by mail!
posted by heatherlogan at 1:23 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]

I feel like folks are kinda losing track of the fact that elections are run by the STATE, and there can be a hell of a lot of variation in how capable they are of running elections either by mail or in person. The slow-motion 2020 election disaster states are scrambling to prevent

In short, I think the answer will depend on your state, and how Trumpublican your state government is and how much experience they have in running mail elections.

having as many votes possible cast in person will be important because they will be counted right away

Sure, but remember "Electoral College." Votes get counted at the state level, and then electors get awarded. He can only FUD the mail vote in "swing" states where he might theoretically have a chance - if you live in California or New York he's gonna get run over like an armadillo on a Texas highway, mail votes or not, so in that case do whatever you want.

My only concern is missing the chance to vote at all if something goes haywire at the voting stations.

Right. So, usually what happens in shitty Republican-run states (even before Trump) is that on election day they have not enough and poorly trained poll workers, and too few hours, and too few or broken voting machines, and hard cut-off times, and judges who will dismiss lawsuits from the ACLU and others looking to extend those times when people are waiting in line. Right now it's likely there will be record-setting turnout all across the US, so expect more of the same but even stronger from Trumpublican state governments. In which case I personally would vote by mail even if they've not had a lot of experience at it but do it in plenty of time to make sure it gets there by the cutoff day and see if there's some method to track your ballot.

If you're in a state that's being run by more reasonable people (who may actually be Republicans, it depends), then they will at least make an attempt to make in-person voting less of a shit-show, so I would feel pretty confident that things will not go seriously haywire enough to prevent you voting at all. (Or, y'know, if they go THAT haywire in those states we're basically at the "kiss American civilization goodbye" point, so . . .) So if you're in a "swing"-ish state with a not-shitty state government, go ahead and vote in person.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:19 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]

"Voting by mail is super reliable, people are only doubting it because they've internalized the GOP's long-standing lies and voter suppression." I wish I didn't have to say this, but this is a really inaccurate statement in certain parts of the country.

I tried to vote by mail in New York's recent primary. My ballot didn't arrive until after the mail-in deadline, so I went to vote in person. (My polling site is always lightly trafficked, so this wasn't a problem.) For those who did vote by mail-in ballot, their vote may or may not count. According to an article in Gothamist today:
"As the counting winds down for New York State’s June primary election, a federal judge is set to decide whether thousands of absentee ballots were invalidated because of problems with postmarks and the U.S. Postal Service .... In New York City alone, the local Board of Elections mailed out more than 778,000 ballots, and recorded 408,000 of them returned. Nearly 50 percent of the total vote of this primary was through absentee ballots, compared to previous elections when the rate hovered closer to single-digit percentages of the total...."
Now, keep in mind this is New York, and I had such trouble changing my address for the 2016 primary, I called my state senator the day of the primary to ask how to vote because I still hadn't received Board of Elections clearance, and I'd already spent some 10 hours on the issue over the preceding weeks, which included visiting them in person. Although I was able to vote by affidavit, the **extreme** trouble the Board of Elections had with my change of address request — something that happens in NYC all the time — led me to call the Department of Justice and spend an hour on the phone with them. I wasn't the only one who called that year, but I was one of the few who followed up. A few months later a few heads rolled at the Board of Elections.

But it made no difference. If you follow New York news, you may have heard Gov. Cuomo tried to cancel the election, and the only reason we were (supposedly) able to vote was because Andrew Yang took the issue to court, and won.

Now obviously not all states are going to have problems like that. But it's worth being aware that the post office is in dire straits and may not have the resources to handle the ballots, which is at least part of what happened here. But it's also worth understanding that voter suppression happens in the North too.

As for how to vote, I'd vote early, or deliver your ballot to the voting site by hand, as others advised.
posted by Violet Blue at 3:22 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]

Check your local laws. In Minnesota, we can not accept an absentee ballot at the precinct.
posted by advicepig at 4:08 PM on July 31

Do you know how your state and county handle absentee voting? In the state where I previously lived, you mailed in your ballot and that was it - no way (as far as I know) to know if it arrived. In my current location, I get an email from the county clerk that my ballot has been received, which is very reassuring. So in my location, 100% vote by mail.

If you’re wondering about anonymity - the ballot goes in an envelope without my name, which goes in an envelope with my name on it. So they know I voted, but once they take the unidentified envelope out and put it with the other ballots, there’s no way to link it to a person.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:49 PM on July 31

This greatly depends on where you are and how corrupt your government and postal employee4s are or might be.

What are your thoughts on the most reliable way to submit a vote this year? Any other pros/cons I'm missing?

I'm a poll worker and have been since 2013. I'm hollering at everyone who can vote by mail to please vote by mail. Every person less at the polls is one iota safer for poll workers and quicker voting for everyone else. We've been trying to make voting as safe as we can, we're doing it all outside except for accessible voting, but there's still always some risk.

Voting by mail is safe in Vermont, we're a low-density state. We get along with our post office and if you're a local voter, we will get your ballot.

We're counting absentees early (I am in Vermont, and this is legal, we just don't tell anyone the numbers) so we have fewer people in the building on voting day. We will accept day of absentee ballots and it's no problem. So much of this is dependent on the climate where you are.
posted by jessamyn at 6:53 PM on July 31 [4 favorites]

Some background on the problems with the US Mail right now, from the excellent historian Heather Cox Richardson:
On July 14, DeJoy put major changes in place. These, he said, were intended to cut costs in order to keep the USPS afloat, but this explanation is suspicious since as soon as Trump was sworn in, his Office of Management and Budget produced a report that called for privatizing the USPS.

The emphasis on DeJoy's changes is significantly less time spent managing the mail. For example, letter carriers must now leave mail behind at distribution centers if it would delay the completion of their routes according to new, tight, schedules. Traditionally, letter carriers make multiple delivery trips to ensure letters and packages are delivered on time; now the materials will wait for the next day. There will no longer be any overtime, and postal hours are being cut. Already, post offices are seeing a growing backlog of mail.
I recommend reading the whole thing.

Personally, I am generally extremely comfortable with voting by mail, but I'm having second thoughts for this year, specifically because of DeJoy.
posted by kristi at 3:55 PM on August 3

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