COVID-19 shoos in mail-in ballot revolution

Student requests application for a ballot by mail. Texas is a state where you must have an excuse for voting by mail. Photo illustration by Emileé Edwards | photographer

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

The Nov. 3 Election Day is approaching with changes since the last presidential election in 2016. The recent pandemic has created an emphasis on mail-in voting as well as changes to the presidential debates and a shift in which states are up for grabs.

Benjamin A. Kleinerman, Baylor RW Morrison chair of political science, said the biggest change may be the amount of mail-in voting compared to past elections. He said this could either mean there will be a greater amount of voter turnout due to ease of mail-in ballots or the pandemic will prevent people from voting altogether.

“A lot of people are still worried about waiting in line and going to the voting booths and such, so there will be more mail in voting and more absentee ballot voting,” Kleinerman said. This will “almost inevitably mean we won’t know the results of election on election night.”

In an interview with Fox News back in August, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller raised concerns about voter fraud due to the increased number of mail-in ballots. He said this is a problem that Americans should be considering coming into the election season.

“Nobody who mails in a ballot has their identity confirmed,” Miller said in the interview. “Nobody checks to see if they’re even a U.S. citizen. Think about that. Any — any foreign national, talk about foreign election interference, can mail in a ballot and nobody even verifies if they’re a citizen of the United States of America.”

While voter fraud is always a possibility, AP News published an article fact checking precautions taken against mail-in ballot fraud. It said ballots are “generally sent to registered voters” who must provide identification upon registration and bar codes are often used to identify duplicate ballots.

“Ballots typically require voters to provide identifying information such as a birth date or Social Security or driver’s license number,” the article said. “In most states, voters also sign the back of the envelope, which is then verified with the signature on their voter registrations.”

To increase ballot security, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation on July 27 that will “allow a voter to deliver a marked mail ballot in person to the early voting clerk’s office prior to and including on election day” using valid ID. However, requirements to mail-in vote still apply and can be found on McLennan County’s website.

The pandemic has also shifted the way Presidential debates are being run, Kleinerman said. He thinks the “pandemic has become the central issue” of the election and is therefore the most “pressing topic” of the debates thus far.

Kleinerman said COVID-19 has not only been used as a source of political “blame” in the debates, but it is even changing the way the debates are being held. During the recent Vice Presidential Debate, plexiglass barriers, ventilation and COVID-19 testing were used to combat potential spread.

Following the Commission on Presidential Debates’ (CPD) announcement that the second presidential debate will be held virtually where the “candidates would participate from separate remote locations.” President Donald Trump said in a Fox News interview, “I’m not going to do a virtual debate.”

“I’d be surprised if [Trump] doesn’t, in the end, try to have the debate,” Kleinerman said. “He’s down so far in the polls that I think one of the only chances he has in coming back is to succeed in the debate … Usually, it’s the candidate who’s leading that doesn’t want to have the debate, not the candidate who is way behind.”

Kleinerman said Trump’s response was an example of how the pandemic has become a charged political stance. He said Americans “are so polarized as a nation now” and more than ever, “we wrap our identities into our politics.”

Another factor Kleinerman said is a shift since the 2016 election is “how many states are now considered battleground states going into this election.” He said one of the most “striking” possibilities is that there is a chance historically Republican states like Texas might be won by Biden.

Kleinerman said this is only conjecture, but the shifting “demographic” of Texas from migrating Americans and the idea that people are either voting for Trump or “against him by voting for Biden” is what is contributing to the polls right now.