During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and his fellow Republicans wanted Union soldiers to be able to vote in the 1864 election from the battleground. “I would rather be defeated with the soldier vote behind me than to be elected without it.” Lincoln said.
Democrats thought letting soldiers vote by mail was a scheme to help the Republicans win. In the end, 75 percent of soldiers who voted cast their ballot for Lincoln, although there is evidence that many were pressured to choose him.
During the Second World War the 1942 Soldier Voting Act enabled troops to vote by mail. At the time, a Gallup poll found the race between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas E. Dewey was close. Both parties believed soldiers would vote for the Democrat, Roosevelt. This time it was the Republicans who objected.
Today, mail-in voting isn’t uncommon. In the 2016 presidential election, nearly 21 percent of voters cast their ballot by mail. According to the Vote at Home Institute, an advocacy group, more than 250 million ballots have been cast by mail since 2000.
For this November’s election, many states are expanding access to absentee voting due to concerns about coronavirus. In all, 76 percent of Americans will be able to vote by mail. Only nine states (Connecticut, New York, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia) require a valid excuse.
Given how much you’re hearing about voting by mail leading to fraud, you might think voters are cheating. But election officials from Colorado, Oregon and Washington, which have held statewide mail elections for years, say they seldom see cheating.
An analysis by The Washington Post and the Electronic Registration Information Center found “372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent.”
In 2018 in North Carolina, it was a Republican party operative, not voters, who tampered with absentee ballots to help the Republican candidate. The election results were thrown out.
A bigger problem than fraud in mail-in voting appears to be rejected ballots – ballots that arrive past the deadline, or have signature discrepancies or other errors.
Recently, in the presidential primary in Florida, 18,500 late ballots weren’t counted. In Nevada, 6,700 votes were rejected because signatures couldn’t be verified. These issues could make a difference, especially in battleground states.
A majority of Americans are in favor of absentee voting. A new poll from Pew Research found that 65 percent of Americans say early voting or “no excuse” mail-in voting should be an option; 33 percent say it should be allowed with an excuse.
Despite his tweets to the contrary, President Trump does favor some mail-in voting. He cast an absentee ballot in the 2018 midterms in New York, and again this year in the Florida primary.