This post is brought to you by Sendoso Content Marketing Manager Meira McFarquhar.
At Sendoso, we talk about the power of direct mail a lot. But when you think about the most impactful thing you can send through direct mail, what comes to mind?
Is it money? An expensive piece of technology? Valuable documents? Food?
The answer? None of the above.
In fact, even in our increasingly digital landscape, we still rely heavily on direct mail for various essential, necessary functions, including perhaps the single greatest function it’s ever been used for: voting.
While the traditional method for voting in a United States election has been going to the polls, waiting in line, and filling out your ballot in person on Election Day, voting by mail has been an option for some Americans as early as the Civil War.
Now, the U.S. uses the mail for two voting systems: absentee ballots (for people physically unable to vote in person) and mail-in ballots, which are open to all voters.
But why and how did the process of voting by mail start? How has the process changed over time? And where exactly does that ballot go anyway?
The History of Voting By Mail
The year was 1864, and America was gearing up for another significant presidential election. The previous election was arguably our country’s most important to this day, and one that had altered the course of our nation’s history forever. On the ballot this time was General George B. McClellan and President Abraham Lincoln up for his second term. A lot was at stake.
America was a country divided—literally. And while early examples of absentee voting for soldiers had been demonstrated on much smaller scales during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, it was during the Civil War that the United States experimented with absentee voting on a mass scale for the first time, as large numbers of men eligible to vote were fighting in battlefields too far away from home.
So, 19 states changed their laws to enable absentee voting for Union soldiers in the Civil War. They could cast their ballots by proxy back home, visit a makeshift polling site set up by officers and overseen by clerks and state officials, or deposit their ballots in a voting box to be sent back to their home precinct.
The mass experiment worked.
Around 150,000 out of one million Union soldiers were able to vote absentee in the 1864 presidential election, securing Lincoln’s victory.
Not long after the war ended, more states gradually began to pass new laws expanding absentee voting to residents. With World War II came another need to allow absentee voting for soldiers stationed abroad, and by the mid 20th century, most states adopted this practice (although quite a few required voters to have an excuse or specific reason for voting absentee).
In the 1980s, California became the first state to completely lift the requirement that a voter provide an excuse to vote by mail. In 2000, Oregon became the first state to switch to vote by mail elections entirely.
Voting by Mail Today
Now in 2020, all states offer some form of absentee voting. 29 states and Washington D.C. allow “no excuse” mail-in absentee voting, and 16 states allow voters to cast a ballot by mail if they have an excuse. (For more information on what your state allows, click here.)
Mail-in voting’s popularity is on the rise. In 2016, 33 million votes were cast by mail-in or absentee ballots. This year’s COVID-19 concerns have persuaded even more voters to request absentee ballots or send in mail-in ballots instead of going to the polls on Election Day, and future elections will likely see similar results. Utah even experimented with a drive-in voting option during this year’s primaries! In time, the idea of an “Election Day” may soon be one for the history books as well.
Where Does Your Ballot Go?
So you filled out your ballot, signed it, sealed it, and sent it off. Now what?
While the methods for processing ballots vary slightly by state and county, the same basic steps are applied.
Once your ballot lands at your county’s election office and is ready for processing, your ballot signature is compared to your signature on file. Smaller counties do this manually, while larger counties usually use a machine to do this.
Once your signature is verified, it’s prepared for counting. Election workers are allowed by law to open your ballot and feed it into a counting machine (although your voting preference is kept confidential). Some states allow counties to begin processing early ballots as soon as they’re received; however, no votes are tallied until the polls close on Election Day. Only on Election Day at closing time (which varies nationwide) can workers hit the ‘tally’ button. States count the mail ballots and add the results to the votes of those individuals who cast their ballots in person.
Ballots received post-Election Day are still counted so long as they were postmarked by Election Day so some states likely won’t have their official tallies in on Nov. 3. Generally speaking though, for the 2020 presidential race we should have a pretty solid idea of which way the race is headed even if no candidate clinches the 270 electoral votes needed to declare victory until later this week.
Send Your Voice
The opportunity has once again come to send your voice for the United States presidential election. Nov. 3, 2020 is the most important date of the year for this very reason.
Given the importance of voting in the U.S. presidential election (and every election), Sendoso is giving all of our employees a half-day off on Election Day to either go out and vote, serve as a poll worker, or simply watch the news unfold at home.
Every Election Day serves as an important reminder of just how powerful one voice and one vote can be. No matter who you are, your voice matters greatly. Use it on Nov. 3 and #SendYourVoice!
*If you never got around to sending in your ballot, don’t worry. There’s still time to drop off your ballot at a designated drop off location or local election office. Plus, you can always go to a polling place in-person on Election Day to vote, even if you’ve already received a mail-in ballot.
Curious what other cool things direct mail can do? Witness the power of sending direct mail and making meaningful connections at scale with Sendoso. Request your custom demo today.