Pros and Cons of Voting By Mail

May 25, 2022

Voting by mail is a secure, efficient, and inclusive way to ensure eligible voters get the opportunity to cast their ballot. If you're unsure whether mail-in votes are right for your election, we'll look at the pros and cons of voting by mail to help you make an informed decision.

The Advantages of a Mail-in Vote

The primary reason voting by mail is advantageous is that it increases access for those who wouldn't have been able to travel to a polling station. 

That includes:

  • People living or working away from home
  • Those with mobility or travel complications
  • Caregivers and patients in care facilities
  • Individuals with medical conditions that make in-person voting unsafe
  • Those who travel for work and based out of various locations
  • Private sector workers with shift work commitments
  • Families with younger or disabled dependents

There are countless additional considerations, but it is never safe to assume that each member of an electorate has the means, time, and transport to attend a polling booth–whereas mail-in ballots are accessible to anyone.

What Are the Benefits to States Using Mail-In Voting?

Other positive aspects to voting via mail are:

  • The ability to reinforce security and verification processes, such as by adding barcodes or unique ID tags to each ballot paper
  • Reduced costs by reducing the need to recruit or train as many poll workers
  • Less pressure to find multiple locations and negotiate temporary rental charges for polling facilities
  • Improved voter turnout and inclusion of all community groups
  • Better voter information, with the flexibility to research and examine the candidates before deciding

Additionally, election officials can use the ballot posting process to validate voter information, update polling lists when ballots are undeliverable, and prompt voters to participate.

The Disadvantages of Mail-in Votes and Possible Solutions

While there are many reasons to consider a mail-in option (often alongside polling stations), it makes sense to analyze all potential pitfalls.

Some of the possible problems could include:

  • Time delays in the return of completed ballots–one solution is to install drop boxes or curbside drop-offs without reliance on the postal service.
  • Voter fraud–requiring a signature to cross-check against the voter ID card or adding unique barcodes can help remove this risk.
  • The need to maintain and update voter registration rolls–usually by comparing information to Social Security data to remove voters who have moved or passed away
  • Confusion about voting deadlines – it’s important to make clear when the voter needs to return their ballot.

Some election candidates prefer in-person voting because it is in their interest to do so–they may pour resources into last-minute campaigns or save flagship policy details until the last minute to boost votes in their favor.

This isn't as easy with mail-in ballots because they are usually cast ahead of election day, giving voters time to consider their preferences. Voters won't, therefore, be pressured into making any last-minute decisions.

Has the Pandemic Increased Demand for Postal Ballots?

The COVID health crisis presented a significant challenge for elections, for both local and private events as well as state and federal elections. Where people could not travel, mix socially, or be in enclosed spaces in larger groups, mail-in votes were an obvious answer to allow elections to proceed.

Nearly half of all states now offer mail-in ballots for primaries, although some require voters to apply if they prefer a postal vote, and some ask for a reason for mail-in voting. These reasons could include illness, the inability to travel, or lengthy distances to polling centers, and these reasons highlight how many people wish to vote but cannot if the only option is an in-person ballot.

What is the Argument for All Elections to Use Mail-in Ballots?

The case for mail-in ballots is strong and has become more compelling in the post-pandemic world. Many critics feel that mail-in votes are susceptible to fraud, but the statistics paint a very different picture.

Between 2000 and 2012, the US election database identified 2,068 cases of alleged fraud, and of those, 24% were absentee ballots. However, over twelve years and across millions of votes cast, the real figure is just 491 cases of fraud–a tiny fraction of ballots, well below the level required to make any impact on an election.

Advanced mail polling systems are also a sure-fire way to protect the integrity of mailed votes, with tracking, validation, and verification techniques to ensure every ballot is checked and accounted for.

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