Imagine if there were a voting method shown to increase participation in elections. Imagine that it had a near-perfect track record, with less than one instance of ballot fraud per million ballots cast. Imagine if it could keep Alaskans safer, taking pressure off the state’s voting sites. Imagine it would let Alaskans cast their ballots at any time in the weeks leading up to an election, accommodating for work schedules and allowing voters to research candidates in depth while marking their ballots. Now imagine that method already exists and was used by nearly 1 in 4 U.S. voters in 2016. That method is mail-in voting, and this year, you should seriously consider it.
Voting by mail shouldn’t be controversial: It’s been in place for years in states such as Washington, Oregon and Colorado, and it’s how America’s overseas military service members have voted for decades. For its part, Alaska has long had a mail-in voting option — voters can request an absentee ballot for any reason. And this year, there’s plenty of reason to do so. The COVID-19 pandemic means we should take advantage of any opportunity to avoid putting ourselves, other voters or poll workers at risk via in-person contact.
There are plenty of myths out there about voting by mail — some of which, unfortunately, have been spread by President Donald Trump and other officials. Let’s debunk them:
Myth: “Voting by mail would lead to election fraud.”
Fact: Fortunately, voting by mail has a long track record in the U.S., so there’s plenty of evidence to dispel this erroneous claim. The incidence of voter fraud in mail-in voting is about 0.00006% — about one ballot per state every six or seven years. What’s more, the scenario raised by Attorney General William Barr — that a foreign power could submit fraudulent ballots en masse — was shown by elections officials across the nation to be highly unlikely when standard precautions are taken.
Myth: “People are only pushing voting by mail because it would benefit their political party.”
Fact: A Stanford University study found no evidence that the expansion of mail-in voting benefited any particular party. It has, however, been shown to increase voter turnout by about 2%, on average, which means that those elected should more closely resemble the will of the electorate. More representative government benefits us all.
Myth: “Elections officials can’t handle a big increase in mailed ballots.”
Fact: Officials in Alaska and across the U.S. have plenty of experience with mailed ballots. As stated earlier, American soldiers have voted by mail since the Civil War. It’s not a revolutionary or untested system; the Municipality of Anchorage has conducted its elections by mail-in ballot for the past two years, a system that doesn’t appear difficult for voters to grasp, given the increased turnout.
So how do you go about voting absentee by mail in Alaska? You can request an absentee ballot online at the Division of Elections website: absenteeballotapplication.alaska.gov. For the primary election Aug. 18, you must request your ballot by Aug. 8, and mail your ballot on or before election day. You can request an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 general election any time from now until Oct. 24. More information on mail-in voting is available at the Division of Elections website.
Of course, if you forget to apply for an absentee ballot, or if you’re uncomfortable with voting by mail, you can still show up to the polls on election day and vote as usual. But in the midst of a pandemic, those of us who are able and willing to vote by mail should do so — it will relieve pressure and public contact with understaffed poll workers, as well as keep more people from potential exposure to COVID-19.
On both a national and state level, this year’s election will prove consequential as we face some of our toughest tests in a generation: A badly depressed economy, out-of-control deficit spending, a pandemic that has already killed more than 150,000 Americans, and sharp differences of policy on everything from tax policy to social issues. It’s crucial that we make our voices heard and elect the best representatives possible in Juneau and Washington, D.C. If you can do your part in that by voting by mail, so much the better.