During the 2000 presidential election, Florida came under fire after counting hundreds of absentee ballots in violation of the law. For conservative policymakers, that scenario continues to illustrate the high failure rate and fraud that accompanies absentee ballots.
Voter fraud, however, is less of a problem than is commonly believed, with the Justice Department finding in 2005 that there were very few cases of widespread fraud, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, absentee voting can increase voter turnout and can offer a reliable system. In order for America’s democracy to flourish and include a more diverse voting population, absentee voting needs to become a standard that is accepted nationwide.
With rising tuition fees and budget cuts to public education, the voices of low-income minorities and college students are integral to the nation’s change. Many states, however, are hunkering down on voter access.
Texas recently called on the U.S. Supreme Court to allow handgun licenses, but not university identification cards, as acceptable forms of voter identification. In August, the Justice Department ruled this law unconstitutional under Section 5 of the Civil Rights Act, because it would disproportionately affect low-income blacks who lack the money and resources to obtain handgun licenses. Though well-intentioned, Texas’ effort to crack down on voter fraud by undermining students’ voting rights while supporting the rights of gun owners sent a negative message.
But the problem does not stop at Texas — Tennessee, South Carolina and Wisconsin are all instituting a slew of laws to block out student voters, banning student IDs and out-of-state driver’s licenses as acceptable forms of identification. These regulations discourage absentee voting for out-of-state and non-residential university students. With a young generation growing up in a world of globalization, geographic mobility is increasing. More students are applying to college than ever before and heavily rely on absentee voting. There is already so much apathy among college-aged voters. Making the voting process harder will create another excuse for them not to vote, which is the last thing the country needs.
Mail-in voting does not only impact college students, but also low-income minorities. For some disadvantaged communities, the closest voting booth could be miles away. By offering underrepresented citizens a convenient means to vote, mail-in ballots will increase their voter participation.
Ultimately, the problem does not lie with absentee voting itself but states’ lack of strict enforcement and conviction against voter fraud. If the federal government mandated the establishment of nationwide regulations for mail-in absentee voting, states would adhere to the same standards. Unable to half-heartedly enforce their own absentee voting laws, states would be held accountable for abusers of absentee ballots.
Without a doubt, absentee voting should become a right for all citizens in every state. Failing to do so will only do a disservice to our democracy and leave a large and diverse group of citizens unable to pursue an essential civic duty.
Chanelle Yang is a sophomore majoring in policy, planning and development.