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Crossing the Hurdles of Mail-in Voting During a Pandemic

Welcome back, UMMA student blog readers, to the sixth of ten Tuesdays leading up to the 2020 November general election. Each Tuesday until Election Day on November 3, we will be posting topics on democracy, voting, and justice in order to spark conversations about the upcoming election.

Crossing the Hurdles of Mail-in Voting During a Pandemic

Written by Emily Considine

Edward F. Higgins, Doo Da Post (stamped and cancelled manilla envelope), 1980, mixed media on paper, museum purchase, 1981/1.310

It’s National Voter Education Week! You can find out more here, but today’s specific theme is preparing to vote by mail if that’s the way you choose to vote this year. It’s a valid alternative to voting in person, especially when a pandemic threatens the safety of high-traffic indoor voting spaces. However, recent mail slowdowns this year from the United States Postal Service have cast doubt for some on the effectiveness and integrity of voting-by-mail.

There’s a lot of reasons why USPS services have slowed down. Already in a tricky financial situation pre-pandemic, the USPS lost $2.2 billion between April and the end of June this year. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump appointed a new postmaster general on June 15, Louis DeJoy — a major donor to the president’s campaign and the first postmaster general in almost twenty years to have not been a postal service employee previously. Since his appointment, DeJoy has focused on fixing “ingrained inefficiencies” in the USPS system and has removed various mail-sorting machines, got rid of USPS employees’ overtime, and reorganized or eliminated many USPS leadership positions.

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic means likely millions more ballots than usual will be submitted by mail. Combined with USPS cuts, that means fewer resources will be on hand to process a higher volume of ballots. Many don’t have high hopes for the postal service’s ability to handle this pressure, even if DeJoy himself is “extremely, highly confident.” The president has also recently attacked mail-in voting as a “joke,” insinuating that it encourages voter fraud. However, voting by mail is, on the whole, a safe and secure process, and studies have shown it does not provide a significant advantage to either major political party.

In light of increased anxiety around the viability of mail-in voting, the time to prepare to make your vote count is now. If you plan on relying on the USPS to cast your ballot, the key is preparing early. Here’s what you can do right now to avoid your vote getting lost in the flood of mail-in ballots on November 3:

  • Request your ballot now, if you haven’t already, and check your voter registration to make sure it’s being sent to an address you can definitely access before election day.
  • Turn your ballot in well in advance and in person if possible. If you can’t return your ballot in person, it’s still recommended to put your ballot in the mail significantly ahead of your state’s deadline. Most experts recommend doing so by Oct. 20.
  • Know your absentee ballot deadlines. In Michigan, mail-in ballots must be received by election day.
  • Track your ballot if your state allows it (Michigan does!) to make sure it reaches your local elections office.
  • Make a backup plan — if you’re anxious that your ballot may not arrive in time to be counted, contact your local elections office to see if and how you can still vote in person.

If you’re in Ann Arbor, many of these steps can be completed in advance at the satellite City Clerk’s office located inside UMMA. From all of us student bloggers here at UMMA, I wish you the best of luck in your voting endeavors. As students, many of us are ourselves first-time voters and also navigating the new hurdles of voting in a pandemic, too. So whatever path to voting you decide to take this year, we’re right there with you and eager to help.


Check back in next Tuesday, Oct. 13, for another post! You can always find out about more Vote 2020 programming by signing up for UMMA’s Art & Activism email. The content of this piece represents the opinions of its author and not necessarily those of UMMA or the University of Michigan.

Emily Considine is a senior BFA student in Art & Design at the University of Michigan, hoping to become an illustrator. In addition to her involvement with UMMA, she’s done various illustrations, comics, and design work for Arts at Michigan, Forbidden Stew, and ArtsEngine. You can find her most nights during the school year at The Michigan Daily, where she manages the Opinion page.

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