First things first: every vote counts. 

Whether you do it in person, via mail, drop it off at a polling location: please VOTE! 

A Global Perspective

The subject of voting and democracy is one that often turns violent in developing nations around the world. People have been murdered, silenced, and continue to risk their lives every year in an effort to uphold democracy in their respective countries. Let’s honor the global struggle to be heard and counted by ensuring that we make our voices heard for all those whose voices are currently being silenced. 

With elections coming up on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, many questions regarding the country’s future hang in the balance. As our worries regarding the pandemic, the economy, the environment, and human rights all fight for priority it’s important to ensure that we all have the needed information in regards to voting. 

Absentee voting and mail-in voting have been recent buzzwords in the news, but what do they actually mean?

It is important to note that the election and voting administration system in the U.S. is decentralized, meaning each state creates and sets its own regulations for conducting elections and voting. This has led to the diverse rhetoric we hear on the news in regard to voting by mail. Essentially, absentee voting and vote by mail are the same – they both give people the opportunity to cast their ballots via mail. Some states have used the phrases absentee and mail-in voting interchangeably in the past. Today, in an effort to stem the confusion regarding the terms, the National Conference of State Legislatures is using the term “absentee/mailed ballots” when referencing ballots that are mailed out to people.

So what is absentee voting?

The concept of absentee voting goes back to the Civil War and was created as a way for soldiers who were away from home to still  cast their ballots. Absentee voting refers to being “absent” from home and one’s poll location on election day. Today this has carried over to include individuals in various situations that may make it difficult to be physically present in their poll location. Even people who can be present choose this option sometimes, a practice known as “no-excuse absentee”, it allows them to cast their vote via mail if it is easier for them regardless of where they physically are. Individuals must request to be absentee voters if this is a route that will be most beneficial to them.

So why are some election officials against mail-in voting but hail absentee voting? What is universal mail-in voting?

The key difference in the current battle between absentee voting and mail-in voting is the word universal. Universal—sometimes called indiscriminate—mail-in voting is a process by which elections officials mail ballots to everyone in their counties without people specifically requesting them to do so (as they normally would in absentee voting). This is a proactive approach to voting but can have its drawbacks. 

Specifically, this can cause confusion if people have moved and have not updated their voter registration. The concern here is that people who are not the real voters will receive ballots and cast them fraudulently. Despite these challenges there are several states that have been conducting universal mail-in voting for several years—among them are Colorado, Hawaii, and Oregon. They have strict regulations in place to help prevent fraud and verify ballots. California will join these states and start mailing out ballots to everyone. 

The bottom line: The phrases absentee voting and mail-in voting are used interchangeably. The tie breaker is the addition of the word universal (or indiscriminate) to the phrase mail-in voting. This changes who receives mail-in ballots from those who have requested them (absentee) to everyone (universal). People who receive the ballots can choose to mail the ballots in or drop them off at a poll location. Given that every state has different guidelines for absentee/mailed ballots, it’s important to look up the relevant information for your respective state and county. 

If you are choosing to vote by mail remember to mail in your ballot before election day or if you do it the day of and are placing it in a mailbox – ensure the pick up will be for that same day. Ballots must be postmarked no later than November 3 to count!