Due to safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans are choosing to vote by mail this November. President Trump has claimed that mail-in voting could lead to increased voter fraud, despite no proof of fraud in states where voting by mail is common. Though New Mexico has allowed mail-in voting in the past, up until this year, most voters have gone to the polls in person. However, neighboring states have been conducting elections almost entirely by mail for years. Utah was one of the states with the highest percentage of mail-in votes in 2018. The vast majority of Colorado residents have been voting by mail since 2014. Thus far, neither state has not reported any major issues with widespread voter fraud.
Contrary to what President Trump or others opposed to mail-in voting may think, this is not a new concept. In fact, during the War of 1812, Pennsylvania and New Jersey permitted soldiers to vote by mail. Fifty years later, during the Civil War, nineteen northern states passed laws that allowed soldiers to vote absentee. By 1944, every state allowed soldiers to cast absentee ballots, and 3.2 million soldiers overseas were able to vote. They made up seven percent of the total electorate in that year’s presidential election. With over 200 years of mail-in voting in the U.S., the myth of voter fraud resulting from absentee ballots should be a non-issue at this point.
While voting by mail has historically been associated with military members serving overseas, civilians living abroad also have the option to mail in their ballot. Americans who are working for companies with foreign offices or studying abroad can vote absentee. Madeline Gerbracht was a college student in Leiden, the Netherlands during the 2016 presidential election.
“I went online to get my ballot sent to me in Leiden,” says Gerbracht, now living in Buffalo, New York. “I got my ballot in October, filled it out, and went to a Dutch post office to mail it back to the U.S.” She is one of 30 million voters in 2016 who cast their ballot by mail, which includes both overseas and domestic voters.
As we prepare for Election Day, we are not just choosing a candidate, but also the way we will vote. More and more New Mexicans are planning to vote by mail rather than risk catching or spreading COVID-19 at a crowded polling place. Furthermore, mail-in ballots do not necessarily have to go through the post office. Many voters have concerns that their ballots could get lost in the mail and go uncounted.
“I plan on getting an absentee ballot and taking it to a polling place to drop it off,” says River Marquez, a recent UNM graduate living in Albuquerque, who will be voting in his first presidential election this year. “There have been too many efforts to disparage the post office for me to trust that it won’t be sabotaged. I’d feel more at ease knowing my vote won’t get lost in transit because I’ll hand deliver it on the day of the election.”
“I don’t plan on voting by mail this year since I’m back in America,” adds Gerbracht. She echoes Marquez’s fears about ballots getting lost in the mail. “I’ll wait in line. I want to guarantee my ballot is counted.”
For New Mexicans planning to vote by mail this election, first and foremost, it is important to make sure you are registered to vote. The deadline to register is Tuesday, October 6. Additionally, the deadline to request a ballot by mail is Tuesday, October 20. If you have questions about voting in New Mexico, visit the Secretary of State website for more information.