Two hundred twenty-four years ago, the United States was a brand new democracy with the world’s eyes on it. This week, the entire world watched with anticipation as the United States voted for the 46th president of the United States. Not only were they voting in one of the most contentious elections in the United States’ history, but they were voting in an election during a global pandemic. Voting had to be approached differently to keep Americans healthy and safe, but this election renewed discussion on the American voting system. This includes the hotly debated subject that divided Americans: by-mail voting. As a proud Coloradan, I can say that I have voted by-mail in every election, as Colorado is a universal mail-in state. 99.3% of Coloradans voted by mail in the June 2020 primary this year. States like Hawaii, Utah, Washington, and Oregon also have universal by-mail systems. All states have reported higher turnouts since doing so (with no evidence biased towards one party). But why were mail-in ballots so important and contentious this general election if they have such a high success rate in states like Colorado?
The mail-in ballot was first introduced so that Civil War soldiers could vote even while fighting a war. This carried on as absentee ballots’ laws were expanded again for the soldiers and Americans stationed overseas during WWI and WWII. Today, every state offers an absentee ballot system for citizens wishing to vote but can’t make it to their neighborhood polling station. In states like California, Florida, Georgia, and Wyoming, they do not require citizens to have an excuse to request a ballot. In contrast, states like Texas, Massachusetts, New York, and Louisiana all require a reason for an absentee ballot. But what does this mean for voters and voter turnout in these states? How does the way we vote affect the number of Americans that do vote? Let’s take Colorado as an example, as their system is the newest in the country and leads the nation in voter turnout.
In 2013, Colorado expanded the current voting system via the Voter Access and the Modernized Elections Act, allowing Coloradans to register up until Election Day, furthering their ability to participate in their democracy. In Colorado, registered Republicans and Democrats receive a ballot based on party, and Unaffiliated voters get both ballots in the mail. They then fill it out and return it before the polls close on Election Day. As the 2020 election approached with the United States’ divided on mail-in ballots’ security and legitimacy, election officials in Colorado were confident with the system they had worked so hard to perfect since 2013. Colorado’s officials boasted the system is the most secure in the country by many nonpartisan voting experts. Less than 1% of ballots get rejected overall, and on average, in 2016, 0.9% were rejected statewide. Overall the system works and ensures access to the democratic process.
As I was ready to finish this article, I found out the Joe Biden had managed to become the projected 46th President of the United States. Not only did Joe Biden manage to flip Georgia and Pennsylvania, but he has also managed to get the most votes of any president in the history of the United States. The Biden campaign gained more than 74,534,478 votes (and counting) is impressive in itself, but we must accredit the role that the mail-in ballots have played in this election. Pennsylvania was the state that flipped this morning, ensuring a Biden presidency, but just four days ago, that state had a vast Trump lead. What changed? Mail-in ballots started being verified and tabulated, helping Joe Biden secure the state and its 20 electoral votes. Pre-election day ballots exceeded the 50 million sent out in 2016 across the United States. Since 2016, Michigan and Pennsylvania (both states flipped by Joe Biden) did expand their by-mail system to all eligible voters. We can see it made a difference.
I voted on October 26th, 2020, for the first time. I placed my ballot in a USPS box on Tremont Street on my way to a Women’s March event hosted here in Boston. 4 years ago, I remember feeling so lost and betrayed by the system I believed in. Since then, I have dived into voting regulations to learn more and to help others learn more about the system that allows every American voice to be heard. Now that this election is over, we can’t stop talking about the United States’ election system. I believe that we still need to continue to revolutionize our system. Remember, voter suppression still occurs across the country, and that is an American issue, not a partisan issue. So, where do we go from here? The next step starts with you and your communities.
Elections are happening all the time in your local governments and state governments. There will be a Mid-term election in two years, and two years after that, another General Election. As voters, we have to work with state and county representatives and Election officials to increase your community’s voter turnout. Volunteer to be an election judge for the next election. Many colleges and universities have voter groups on campus that you can work with to modernize voter systems in your state. We have to reevaluate election systems that suppress votes, especially in communities of color. But whatever happens, continue to vote. We should now have a historic voter turnout every year from now onwards. Whenever you can and however you can, vote like you did this year. Tomorrow, thank the election judges, officials, and organizers in your community. They’ve done so much over the past few weeks to make sure this election happened and happened at the pace that it did. They are the bedrock of our democracy and deserve our thanks!