Zoe Stratos | staff writer
In the U.S., voting is a fundamental right for citizens, and showing up to the polling booths to cast a ballot on Election Day has been the standard since the beginning of democracy. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Election Day is slightly different, as mail-in voting takes center stage in all 50 states for the first time ever.
Election Day is Nov. 3, but for those voting by mail, what deadlines should be paid attention to, and how do you make sure your vote is filled out correctly?
On the Pennsylvania government website, it’s stated that voters can now apply as an absentee or a mail-in voter without an excuse. For background, absentee ballots are submitted by mail from an absentee. An absentee is a person who physically cannot go to a polling booth, whether it be because of military deployment or because the voter will not be in his or her registered state during the election.
Moreover, the absentee ballot cannot be given to anyone; there has to be an excuse. The voter must then request and be accepted to use the ballot through his or her state government. However, 29 states, including Pennsylvania, allow no-excuse absentee ballots, which are essentially no different from a mail-in ballot. Both are submitted by mail. According to the Pennsylvania government website, absentee and mail-in ballots are equally safe and secure ways to cast ballots. The DOS online mail ballot application can help decide which ballot is for you.
“It’s helpful if you have a disability, or if you’re part of the at-risk population,” Duquesne political science professor Luke Sheahan said. “It’s also helpful if your job doesn’t allow it. I did it myself. I have to be on campus relatively early on Tuesday’s, I’d be pretty hard pressed, as other citizens are, to get it [in person voting] done.”
When choosing a mail-in ballot, voters can apply online or through the mail. An application must be filled out completely and submitted to your local county board of elections office. After receiving the ballot, it must be filled out completely, sealed in the secrecy envelope, sealed again and signed in the pre-addressed return envelope and either taken or mailed to your county board of elections office. The earlier you turn in your ballot, the surer you can be that it is counted.
“It was kind of like filling out the SAT,” Duquesne senior Emma McDonnell said. “After I opened it, it gave me a set of instructions. You have to make sure the bubble is completely filled in, and you have to use a pen.”
However, the issue is that deadlines are different than in person. The mail-in ballot must be received by the voter by Oct. 27, and postmarked Nov. 3 by 8 p.m. If personally taken to the county board of elections office, it must be in by Nov. 6 at 5 p.m.
Along with directions of how and when to fill out the mail-in ballot on the state government website, many advertisements from local organizations reminded voters to fill out and turn in their mail-in ballots.
“I got text messages about voting,” McDonnell said. “I was shocked about that because I didn’t know how they got my number. It made me a little uncomfortable, but they were really good and helpful advertisements. I also saw a lot of good ones when I’d watch YouTube.”
Since the scope of voting is changing in the U.S. this year, there are worries among citizens as to how it will affect the election outcome.
Recently in Paterson, New Jersey, a municipal election was conducted entirely by mail, and there were issues with fraudulent and stolen mail-in ballots. There are also higher rejection rates among mail-in ballots, which could turn the tide in a close election.
Other than the Paterson incident, according to a study from the Heritage Foundation, over 250 million votes have been cast by mail over the years, and only 1,285 have proven cases of voter fraud.
“I think I know how it will affect the election, but really no one will until the election is over,” Sheahan said. “It’s a little bit of uncharted territory. There will be a lot of talk and speculation about what the future will hold. For me it might become a permanent part of voting, and I suspect that it will be for a lot of other people, too.”
But some want to stick to the standard in person voting.
“I was just happy I got to vote for the first time,” McDonnell said. “I had the intimacy in my own home, and then I could just go on with the rest of my day. This was a good time first voting, but I really wanted my ‘I voted’ sticker.”