How secure is voting by mail?

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Mailboxes in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The Postmaster general announced Tuesday he is halting some operational changes to mail delivery that critics warned were causing widespread delays and could disrupt voting in the November election. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said he would “suspend” his initiatives until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.” (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Voting in Onondaga County could never be easier in 2020, which for many people marks the most important election of their lifetime, but are all the options available to voters secure? 

Due to COVID-19, anyone in New York State can request to vote by mail in the 2020 election.

Onondaga County Republican Elections Commissioner Michelle Sardo said, “The Governor did do another executive order that [voters] can use COVID as a reason for not going to the polls, and when they fill out their absentees, they can drop off their absentee ballots at any of the polling locations.”

Five states already conduct their elections primarily through mail-in voting, but voting by mail has recently come under criticism by President Donald Trump.

“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen. This is not going to end well,” Trump said at the first presidential debate Tuesday.

A report from the Washington Post says voter fraud in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which primarily use mail-in voting to conduct their elections, is rare. In 2016 and 2018, the Washington Post says there were 372 possible cases of voter fraud. This makes up about 0.0025% of the ballots cast in the 2016 and 2018 general elections.

“Like any piece of mail, the risk of it being delayed or not getting to us in time is always a problem,” Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny said at the Thursday Morning Roundtable Discussion sponsored by Syracuse University’s Office of Engagement. “The first thing you could do is act early. Get it done now. Then we have plenty of time to figure out what happened to the mail if it doesn’t get here.”

If worse comes to worse, Czarny says you can always request another ballot. 

Voters can also check on the status of their absentee ballot to make sure it was received by going to onvote.net and using the absentee ballot tracker.

“If you live out of town, if you’re getting your ballot mailed to you, to Florida, or if you’re a college student, or something like that, you really need to act now because that’s where the holes come in,” Czarny said at the Thursday Morning Roundtable. “We have to mail it, and it takes 4-5 days to get to you, and then you have to postmark it by Election Day. If you’re not acting early, if you’re waiting until late October, if you’re waiting until Halloween, you’re going to be in a lot more trouble than someone who is local.”

In order to vote by mail, first you have to make sure you’re registered to vote. Once you’re registered, just head to onvote.net and request an absentee ballot.

“To request an absentee ballot, it has to be postmarked by October 27, but really, if you’re mailing an absentee ballot application to us, you really need to do it by October 21 to give us enough time to process,” Czarny said. “But skip that, go to the portal online, it’s a lot easier to do the portal, it’s a lot easier for us as well, and then you don’t have to worry about mailing it in.”

Once you receive your absentee ballot in the mail, fill it out and send it in. You have to make sure it’s postmarked by at least the day of the election, which is Tuesday, November 3. 

You can either send in your absentee ballots via mail by putting it in the return envelope that is sent with your ballot, or by dropping it in a secure ballot box, which will be at every polling location beginning on October 24.

At the Thursday Morning Roundtable, Czarny said, “These ballot boxes will be at the check-in stations of every early voting and regular Election Day [polling place] and in our lobby. You can drop it off now in our lobby if you want to bypass the post office. Starting early voting on October 24, you can just go right by the line, and drop off absentees.” 

Once your absentee ballot is in, it won’t be counted until after Election Day. This is to make sure that if someone votes in person and via the mail, their vote is not counted twice. Only their in-person vote would count, in this instance.

Once an absentee ballot is sent in, the absentee ballot affirmation envelope is checked by a bipartisan team to make sure there are no errors and that the ballot inside the envelope is valid. Defects that could invalidate a ballot occur when there is no signature on the absentee ballot affirmation envelope, the ballot affirmation envelope contains a voter signature that does not correspond to the voter’s registration signature on file, the envelope is missing the required witness mark or the ballot is returned without an affirmation envelope in the return envelope.

If your absentee ballot is rejected and deemed invalid, you could still correct it and sent it back in before Election Day.

“If an initial rejection happens, a cure letter will be sent out to the voter giving them their opportunity, this is a brand new process this year, an opportunity to cure the process by Election Day,” Czarny said at the Thursday Morning Roundtable. “Then they’re opened in front of the candidates themselves, or their representatives, after Election Day, and then they’re scanned through the machine and counted by a bipartisan team doing the scanning, and then after that, we do a three percent audit of the absentees.”

The voting machines use two memory cards to count and validate the results. According to the elections commissioners, three percent of ballots from each voting machine are randomly selected to be checked for accuracy as well.

“So results are secure, they’re accurate, they’re fair, and I have no worries about us reporting the results,” Czarny said.

Either way you decide to vote, the board of elections urges everyone to get their ballots in early.

“We’re really emphasizing that if you want an absentee ballot, apply now,” Czarny said. “If you get an absentee ballot, send it back as soon as possible. The quicker you get this done, the more you’re going to avoid any mail delays that might happen during the crunch of elections in October.”

Absentee ballot applications in Onondaga County have already reached record numbers, and Election Day isn’t for another month.

“We are now anticipating that about 260,000 [people] will vote in Onondaga County out of 300,000 in this presidential election,” Czarny said. “We expect well over 100,000 of those votes to come via absentee. In fact, yesterday the numbers were we’ve already had over 43,000 applications, and we are still 33 days away from the election.”

The elections commissioners also say they receive up to about 2,000 absentee ballot applications in a single day. 

Whether you decide to vote by mail or in person, just make sure that you vote come November 3.

Important Voting Dates in New York:

  • Deadline to register: October 9
  • Deadline to Request Absentee Ballot: October 27, but recommended before October 21
  • Early Voting Period: October 24 – November 1
  • Deadline to send in Absentee Ballot: Must be postmarked by November 3
  • Election Day: November 3

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