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Each Election Day, Americans vote and thus take part in a fundamental principle of democracy. Elections take place on various levels, from local governments to presidential elections.
Until recently, in order to cast a ballot for a particular election, most voters had to physically appear at their respective polling locations and submit their votes in person. Mail-in voting, also known as absentee voting, was frowned upon and not widely available. It first arose during the Civil War, when soldiers were given the opportunity to cast ballots from the battlefield.
Absentee voting later became an issue during World War II, when Congress passed laws in 1942 and 1944 enabling soldiers stationed overseas to participate in elections. More recently, during the 1980s, more states made absentee voting available, and it is no longer uncommon for voters to be mailed ballots and submit them before Election Day. According to MIT, the movement to vote-by-mail reached new levels with the 2020 elections, which occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some attest that mail-in-voting enables many individuals who would not normally be able to physically make it to the polls on Election Day to cast votes. Mail-in balloting works in different ways. The United States has universal vote-by-mail and absentee balloting. With the former, ballots are mailed to all voters. In the latter, voters must request an absentee ballot.
In terms of a requested absentee ballot, a voter must write, call or request a ballot online. Upon receipt, the voter will make his or her choice, and then place the sealed ballot in a security envelope provided with the ballot. The voter signs the outside of the second envelope to certify that he or she is a registered voter. When the election authority receives the ballot, it certifies the registration of the voter and that the address matches the one on record with the election authority. On Election Day, the mail ballots are added into the results of the votes with those from people who visited the polls in person.
According to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that works to improve policy and governance at local, national and global levels, there is no partisan advantage to either party related to voting by mail. Also, absentee ballots benefit senior citizens as well as low-income people and those without access to transportation.
Despite some news stories in recent years that may lead people to believe mail-in votes come with risk, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University says there is no evidence that mail balloting increases electoral fraud, as there are several antifraud protections built into the process.
Mail-in voting is an option for many people across the U.S. It is secure and convenient for many voters.