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Busting ballot myths with two weeks left to vote

Election Day
A ballot dropbox for the 2020 general election sits in front of the Salt Lake City and County building September 2020. Despite concerns that mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud, data scientists say voting fraud is statistically rare no matter the method. (Brendan Sudberry)

The need for social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has led many states to make mail-in ballots — often called absentee ballots — widely available to registered voters for the 2020 general election. As Election Day quickly approaches on Nov. 3, some may be struggling to understand and identify misinformation about mail-in voting.

President Donald Trump has often cited voter fraud associated with mail-in ballots as a major concern. Despite nonpartisan studies disproving these unsubstantiated claims, many voters have latched on to the idea.

We at The Forum thought it might be valuable to “bust” some of the myths among voters to keep factually-informed voting solid in the minds of the Westminster College community. 

Do mail-in ballots have higher numbers of fraud than in-person voting?

Short answer: No.

Statistically, voter fraud is rare to begin with, whether you’re considering voting in person or by mail. 

For example, a 2007 study found “incidence rates of voter fraud in past elections of between 0.00004% and 0.0009%,” according to a September article from Forbes

According to the Voter Rights Project, only 491 cases of fraud in absentee ballots were found between 2000 and 2012, which is an “infinitesimal” percentage of all possible voters in the time period. 

Although voting by mail is set to be Americans’ preferred method this year, researchers seem confident in the precautions taken to prevent fraud — so you should, too.  

After all, according to Reuters, “election experts say it would be nearly impossible for foreign actors to disrupt an election.” 

Does mail-in voting benefit one political party over another?

Short answer: No.

Although President Trump has indicated mass mail-in voting would unfairly hurt the Republican party, a recent Stanford study reported that universal mail-in voting does not affect either party’s voter turnout to a significant degree. 

According to NPR, President Trump voted in Florida’s primaries by mail — even asking a third-party official to turn his ballot in — and will likely vote the same way in this election.

That said, more Democrats say they plan to vote by mail compared to their Republican counterparts, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll

Counting mail-in votes will take longer than in-person votes, so early results may be unclear — with some experts predicting numbers will show an early landslide victory of one candidate over another, even when all the votes aren’t counted yet. This possible scenario has become commonly known as a “red mirage,” also called a “blue wave.” 

In a red mirage situation, President Trump and his supporters would likely embrace the early lead in Electoral College votes and popular votes — possibly declaring victory — only to be faced with a drastic flip-flop in the following days or even weeks as mail-in votes are tabulated. 

This is, of course, just one scenario data scientists have suggested as a possibility, and early polls for a presidential election are rarely completely accurate

Don’t delayed election results mean someone is tampering?

Short answer: No. 

This loops back to an earlier point. Put simply, mail-in ballots take longer to count than in-person ballots. Over 11 million mail-in ballots have been returned as of Oct. 19, according to the U.S. Elections Project

That’s only about 22% of those who requested mail-in ballots, so we should expect to see plenty more rolling in in the next two weeks. 

Overall, voter fraud is statistically rare, all parties benefit from available mail-in voting and we should expect the vote-counting process to take longer than in previous elections. 

We here at The Forum encourage all Americans who can to use their voice to support democracy and contribute to their nation’s development. If you decide to vote in person, please wear a mask, and stay safe regardless. 

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Marisa Cooper
Marisa Cooper is a senior communication major with a psychology minor. She hopes to find a career path within public relations or journalism with time for a mindful work/life balance. As of late, she’s been exploring passions for embroidery, hiking, house plants and podcasts. Marisa is thrilled to take on the role of managing editor this year.

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