By: Emily Bailey and Sara Jackson
Contributors: Gabrielle Ducote, Tyrese Lane and Kayla Rodgers
Like most everyday tasks in 2020, voting has been a challenge for students away from home, many of whom vote absentee.
This year, absentee voting in general has broken all previous records because of COVID-19, with some 91 million absentee ballots requested nationwide, according to the New York Times. With the U.S. Postal Service already delayed because of cutbacks in service and mail sorting, there are concerns that mailed ballots won’t arrive in time to be counted.
That has forced some students to drive to their home polling places to turn in their ballots in person, just to be sure. Among them was Sarah Patterson, a junior from Huntsville, who tried to change her voter registration to Mobile but was denied because her driver’s license still showed a Huntsville address. That meant a trip home to Huntsville to get the form, fill it out, and turn it in.
Most of the voters waiting in line with Patterson said they were voting absentee because of fears over COVID-19. It was one reason for voting absentee the city could not deny, but the postal problems coupled with the high volume seemed to defeat the purpose of avoiding crowds.
“It was just funny,” Patterson said of her experience at the Huntsville courthouse. “Because it ended up being this really tiny, little hallway, with a ton of people all crammed in there trying to vote.”
The surge in absentee voting driven by the pandemic has brought more scrutiny and accusations of voter fraud. Critics include President Donald Trump, who told “Fox & Friends” that absentee voting was a “scam” and was rife with fraud.
But mail-in voting in the U.S. dates back more than 200 years, and was especially useful for members of the military during wartime, from the Civil War on. The Associated Press quoted a study of past elections by the Brennan Center for Justice, which found that the risk of ballot fraud was minuscule– between 0. 00004 % and 0.0009 %– less than the odds of a U.S. resident being struck by lighting.
At least on campus, mail-in ballots were business as usual. The USA Mail Hub had processed more than 100 ballots by this week, postal workers said, and there were no problems.
Marandia Thomas, a recent USA student voting absentee, was relieved that the process worked in her case.
“Voting by mail was the best decision for me and my family during this time,” she said. “ It was very simple and easy.”
Not everyone was so fortunate, Thomas observed. A friend did not receive her ballot in time, and had to pick one up at the courthouse and fill it out after a 3-hour wait.