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Things That Make You Go Hmmm – Vote by Mail Edition

I received an unsolicited application for an absentee ballot from my local election board the other day which would allow me to cast my ballot in the upcoming primary in Georgia without having to show up in person to do so. I had already voted (in person) in the presidential primary which was paused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  They tell me that my vote will still count.  Officials have combined the incomplete presidential primary with the state primary election which has been postponed until June 9. I wonder how many voters will opt to vote via absentee ballot in order to avoid going to their precinct to vote.

According to a recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, five states allow mail in voting in all elections.  A number of other states allow mail in voting in local elections or in other circumstances.  The report states that “All-mail elections can be thought of as absentee voting for everyone.”  The report also addresses the inevitable question of election security, stating that “hand marked paper ballots are the ‘gold standard’ for election security” and that the identity of the voter can be verified through a signature matching process and other means.

Even though Georgia, like 36 other states, requires some type of identification to cast a vote, the report from the NCSL states that “absentee/mailed ballots are as secure or more secure than traditional methods of voting.” There has been much discussion from all sides in this hyper partisan atmosphere as to whether universal vote by mail is necessary to avoid unnecessarily exposing voters and poll workers to COVID and whether vote by mail will inevitably introduce an element of fraud into the electoral process.

Perhaps neither is true, but the push to move to universal vote by mail, whatever the motivation, is intriguing nonetheless.

Like many of you, one part of my morning routine is to take a glance back at my Twitter timeline to see what has transpired overnight. A post by one of my good friends @pilot_day caught my eye and provided some validation to several random tweets I have posted over the last several weeks wondering why we can go to the grocery store, the hardware store, the liquor store and other places to shop, but are being conditioned to consider and ultimately accept conducting a critical presidential election (aren’t they all critical?) by mail in ballot as opposed to going to our election precincts to cast our ballots, ostensibly because it is not safe from a health standpoint to do so.

The graphic in Day Pilot’s tweet demonstrates just how ridiculous it is to advocate for mail in voting to allow people to avoid gathering at their voting precincts on election day because they might get sick.

As of the 2018 general election, there were 486,697 registered voters in the county where I live.  There are 141 voting precincts in the county.  Although the number varies from a low of 1467 to a high of 5894, the average number of registered voters per precinct is 3,450.  The turnout in the last presidential election in my county was 79.09% which means that, on average, 2,726 voters per precinct showed up to vote in person, spread out over a 12-hour period. If the voters were evenly spread throughout the day (which we know they are not), approximately 227 voters would be at the voting location per hour.  As an amateur statistician, I can conclude with a fairly high degree of confidence that you will likely encounter far more people at Kroger, Costco or Home Depot, masked and unmasked, than you will encounter at your voting precinct in November.

I have thought for years that the Tuesday after the first Monday in November is the one day per year that the entire nation does something together.  The great gathering in voting precincts from Dixville Notch to far flung western locales is something that we all share.  So, I have to wonder why we are being told that we all need to vote by mail for our own good – to keep us from getting sick from COVID-19 or something else.

From where I sit, Day Pilot may be right.  It can’t just be about healthcare, right?

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