Election Day may officially fall on November 8th this year, but voting has been underway for weeks now. That’s because many U.S. citizens vote by mail — or use “absentee” ballots — to cast their votes for the presidency and other offices, and to have their say on state ballot measures.
But just as there are many well-documented issues with voting in-person on Election Day (hello, youth voter suppression), there are downsides to voting with an absentee ballot — and you should know about them before you write in your vote.
Let’s start off by explaining what it means to cast an “absentee ballot.”
Basically, any ballot that’s cast by mail is considered an absentee ballot. (Your state may call it an “absentee,” “mail-in,” or “by-mail” ballot.) Depending on the state, you can either mail in this ballot or even drop it off at a designated location before Election Day.
In 21 states, voters must provide an excuse for voting by mail. For example, you’ll be out of town on Election Day, or you’re a college student living out of town but voting in your home state.
Conversely, 27 states and the District of Columbia require no such excuse. That means anyone can cast an early ballot simply by requesting one. Click here to find out the absentee voting laws in your state, and click here for information about how to vote if you’re a service member or other voter living overseas.
Even though you’re voting early, your ballot will still be counted.
Many people believe that mail-in ballots are only counted in very tight races or ties, but that’s not true. All ballots are counted, whether cast at a polling place on Election Day or in advance by mail.
Some absentee ballots, however, will continue to be counted after Election Day if they’ve been mailed from overseas and were received late, which can give the impression that they don’t count toward the race’s final outcome. If there’s a clear, landslide winner, then those few absentee ballots would not likely change the election’s outcome, but they will still be added to official tallies.
Voting by mail probably sounds ideal if you’ve ever waited in line to cast a ballot, but there are some downsides to the process.
The first is that if you cast your ballot early, you lose out on the chance to hear from the candidates, your friends and family, and the press on what each of those running for office might do for your community and the nation.
Take this election, for instance. You may have voted early for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, liking his stance on the economy. But if you changed your mind about him after videos were released showing Trump speaking about sexually assaulting women, you wouldn’t be able to take back your vote.
The second downside to absentee voting is that it could allow those around you to have undue influence on your choice, since you don’t have the protection of a secure voting booth to allow you to vote freely. The Daily Kos describes early-voting “parties” hosted by Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s supporters in 2008 where those in attendance filled out their by-mail ballots together. “One shudders to think,” Daily Kos writer Inoljt says, “what would have happened to a supporter who decided to vote Republican in a local race.”
Finally, there’s a greater chance for fraud with absentee ballots.
While it’s difficult to show up at a polling place on Election Day and vote as someone you’re not, it’s easier to sign, say, a dead spouse’s by-mail ballot and send it in (this doesn’t happen often, though).
If you decide to vote by mail, you’ll be among a growing segment of the electorate. In 2012, more than one-third of all votes were cast by mail — 46 million ballots — and the Pew Research Center predicts that about 50 million voters will vote using a nontraditional method in 2016.
Voter registration deadlines are coming up quickly (they’ve passed in many states!) so use the widget below to sign up now.
Now let’s rock the vote!