US Presidential Election and the Mail-in Ballot Debate

December 17, 2020 by Chaewon Sung


The 2020 US Presidential Elections were like no other in American history. In this election, real estate mogul and incumbent president, Donald Trump, faced off against life-long democratic politician Joe Biden Many described the presidential debates between the two as “the worst” ever. Despite this, voter turnout was the largest in history with nearly 140 million Americans casting their ballot. All of this happened amidst the deadliest pandemic since the Spanish flu. After a close race in key states including Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia; the electoral map looks to be decidedly in Biden’s favour. He is projected to receive 306 electoral votes as opposed to Trump’s 232. However, Trump has cast doubt on the integrity of the election itself, claiming that they were “rigged” and called into question the legality of mail-in ballots.

But what exactly is a mail-in ballot? A mail-in ballot, otherwise referred to as an absentee ballot, is a form of casting one’s vote via post prior to the actual voting date. First used during the American Civil War, to allow soldiers to vote, the mail-in ballot has found a new use in this pandemic by preventing unnecessary transmission of COVID-19. This year, an unprecedented number of Americans, almost 65 million people, voted by post. Even before the elections themselves began, Trump questioned the mail-in-ballot system saying that they are “very dangerous” and that there's “tremendous fraud involved.” To a certain extent, this is a valid concern; the American election committees and postal services were never subject to this much work in such a short period of time. It is on these grounds that Trump questions the voting system – in his eyes it is obvious that mail-in ballots are more susceptible to manipulation.

Past studies at the state and nationwide levels however, have shown that fraud in elections is extremely rare. The fraud rate of all American elections stands at less than 0.0009 percent. Most recently, the 2018 North Carolina primary was re-run after it was discovered that the Republican candidate manipulated voting papers. So, is the system “rigged” against Trump as he and his allies so boldly claim? In all probability, no. In cities such as Detroit, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where Republicans had complained about the vote counting procedure –the courts quickly dismissed their claims stating that there was no evidence of ballots being mishandled. Even the Federal Election Commission headed by Ellen Weintraub who oversaw the presidential elections in 2003, 2007 and 2020, discarded Trump’s claim as nothing more than a conspiracy theory.

Trump’s unsubstantiated claims and unhinged behavior has in turn spurred speculation about what his motives are in crying foul. The New York Times speculates that Trump had planned to do this from quite some time ago. The reason is that claiming fraudulency will slow down the counting of the votes. This would make it look like Trump is winning in the beginning when in-person votes are tabulated, while the mail-in-ballots which lean heavily democrat are left idle. Thus, it becomes easier to label the democratic votes as fraudulent or illegal.

The major takeaway from this incident, though, is recognizing that coronavirus has significantly altered many aspects of our lives , and that not even voting is an exception to this rule. Some of us – including Trump and his supporters – might find such changes unsavoury. Nonetheless, in this new normal brought about by the COVID-19 crisis, changes like these may simply be some of the things that we must learn to live with. We must all recognize this fact, as we wade through uncharted waters in the months ahead.

The UIC Scribe was founded in 2006 as the official student-run newsmagazine of Underwood International College. It celebrates diversity of thinking, excellence in writing, and the freedom of self-expression.