New Website Aims To Help Voters Navigate Vote-By-Mail Process

August 11, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
A worker logs information from a voter's request for a mail-in-ballot at the Broward County Voter Equipment Center in Lauderhill on July 9. South Florida voters are breaking records for mail voting, as many are reluctant to use early voting and election day voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even people who have voted by mail need to know about the latest rules for Florida mail voting, contained in this guide, which also explains absentee voting.

A new tool, designed to help U.S. voters navigate the task of voting by mail by streamlining the process of applying for an absentee ballot, is now available.

The free tool, which can be accessed at VoteByMail.io, first asks users to enter their zip code. Then, depending on their state of residence, voters are taken to an online application form or redirected to a relevant state government portal.

The VoteByMail website makes applying for an absentee ballot particularly easy in states that allow voters to request an absentee ballot by emailing a request to local election officials.

“What we focused on is states where they’re allowing for the email signup, but don’t have a portal in place,” says Brett Clarke, co-founder of Civex, the non-profit formed for the sole purpose of creating the VotebyMail project.

Once a user submits a request, the website keeps track of the application’s progress. If a user reaches VotebyMail through another website, like the American Civil Liberties Union, the organization will be notified. “It keeps everyone in the loop on how successful vote-by-mail methods are,” Clarke says. 

The digital platform, which launched three months ago, was built by a network of volunteers that include software developers from top tech companies like Google and Intel. It has recently picked up steam, with more than 3,000 sign-ups in the last three weeks.

Clarke says that Civex’s mission is nonpartisan. “We just believe that the best thing for our country is to get as many people voting as possible,” he says. “So it’s just really a coalition of technologists and volunteers who believe in the mission of increasing voter turnout.”

Laws around mail voting differ widely across the U.S., and some states have strict requirements that can render voting by mail difficult.

In Oregon, casting a ballot by mail has become the default voting method, and is a relatively painless process. But other states, like Mississippi, only accept paper absentee ballot requests and require an excuse to vote by mail, like being out of state or being disabled.

Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, requests for absentee ballots have increased in dozens of states amid worries that crowded polling centers could turn into hotspots for the virus.

President Trump and some Republican leaders have repeatedly stated, without evidence, that a surge in mail voting could result in widespread voter fraud.

Clarke, who studied political science in college, says it’s unfortunate that politicians would undermine confidence in mail voting, especially given that other official procedures, like applying for a passport, operate through the postal service.

“I just find it very strange that at this point, we trust everything else with the mail, but we don’t trust voting with the mail,” he says.

Increasing voter turnout shouldn’t be a partisan affair, he says. “There’s never been any kind of proof that says that one party is better off than the other during vote-by-mail. When people vote and when democracy is occurring, it’s good for everybody.”

Still, experts warn that a massive influx of absentee ballots could overwhelm election officials if states aren’t properly prepared.

“It’s going to be a larger surge, but if we give the election officials and the post office ample time to do it, we’ll be in a good spot,” Clarke says. “If we start earlier, that’s going to be better for everybody.”

Civex plans on running its first batch of digital ads for VoteByMail over the next two weeks on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. “We want to run a larger campaign for the month of September, but we’ll see how the first one goes.”

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