Voting: on paper or in person?

Zach Steensma–Staff Writer

“Remember to vote!” is a phrase frequently uttered by well-meaning individuals during election season. And while Tuesday, Nov. 6 was Election Day for millions of Americans, some voters already had their ballots turned in days, even weeks, in advance.

At Dordt, many local and in-state students made the trek to the Terrace View Event Center on the south side of Sioux Center in order to cast their votes last week.

Alternatively, out-of-state students received absentee ballots and voted in their home districts, counties, and states, unless they chose to change their registration information.

Postal voting, or voting by mail, is currently the standard in three states: Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. In these states, all elections are conducted by mail.

Some states have permitted postal voting in certain races, counties, districts, and municipalities. Still others leave it up to lower levels of jurisdiction to decide if elections are held by mail or if voters are given the option of voting by mail or in-person. Often, designated locations with ballot drop boxes are determined and provided by the state.

Absentee voting has been in place for many years. It provides an option for individuals who cannot make it to polling places. It is also a way for people to remain legal residents of their home area and vote on issues that concern them in their own state.

“I feel like it’s just easier than going to the polls,” said senior Jacob Brouwer of Escondido, California, who voted on an absentee ballot.

Supporters of mail-in voting often cite saved costs (mainly from not having to staff polling places) as well as higher voter turnout as some of the benefits of postal voting.

According to a 2017 study of Colorado elections, commissioned by the Washington Post and conducted by Pantheon Analytics, voter turnout increased 3.3 percent after 2014, when the state adopted postal voting for all of its elections.

However, it is hard to determine if the adoption of postal voting was the sole cause of this increase, especially since Colorado already boasts relatively high voter turnout. In the latest primary election, 64 percent of mail-in ballots were returned. The study concluded that while mail-in ballots likely “played a role” in improved voter turnout, there was inconclusive evidence to determine the degree to which mail-in voting actually influenced this number.

Mailing in ballots is certainly easier than travelling to a designated polling place. But opponents see problems that exist in such a system.

Dr. Jeff Taylor, professor of political science, identifies two problems with mail-in voting. The first problem is voter fraud.

“Let’s say you eliminate all in-person voting and did strictly mail-in…it would be harder to check that the person is who they say they are,” Taylor said. “There are security issues that increase.”

But there is also something else that Taylor identifies as missing from the mail-voting experience: community.

“I do think there’s something to be said for the old-fashioned way,” Taylor stated. “I think to me, the community thing is a bigger reason than the fraud or corruption. Normally you go and vote and you see your neighbors there. You lose that when it becomes an individualistic process that’s all about efficiency.”


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