In the Mail

by Ernest Bywater

Copyright© 2020 by Ernest Bywater

Political Story: What can happen with universal postal voting systems, especially when implemented at short notice. Like many ideas, how it goes depends more on how it's implemented than the idea itself. 4,700 words.

Tags: Politics  

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Cover Art

The background image is Mailbox_(254471467) by Marcus Quigmire of Florida, USA on 30 April 2008 and copyrighted by him. The use is allowed by the Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike Licence and terms. Cropping, size adjustment, and text are by Ernest Bywater. All rights to the cover images are reserved by the copyright owners.

16 October 2020 version

Note: US English is used in this story


Table of Contents

Voting in Modern Democracies
Postal Voting Systems
Is it Safe?
Distribution
Election Day

Postal Votes
Election Review

The titles in use are a Chapter, a Sub-chapter, and a section.


Author’s Note

When I first wrote this short story in early October 2020 I was under the assumption that the majority of people understood the basics of the electoral systems in most modern democracies, especially those on voter registers and postal votes. After posting the story I received a host of emails and comments showing me that was a totally false assumption.

That has prompted me to expand the story to cover those areas to make things a lot clearer to readers. I originally had certain facts about postal voting at the end of the story, which I’m now placing at the start of the story along with some expansion of the information.

I was also stunned with the number of partisan comments who listed the very short story as only a political commentary because I listed some facts at the end. From the responses it seems I happen to be a troll acting on behalf of both sides of the current US political spectrum, despite being an Australian and not eligible to vote in the USA elections.

Ernest Bywater
16 October 2020


Voting in Modern Democracies

Most of the modern democracies use a representative type of voting system. While the details in most countries vary, the basics are much the same in they usually have restrictions on who can vote, a register of the eligible voters, a method for eligible voters to vote in person, and a way for them to vote when not able to do so in person near their home.

Eligible Voters

Most democracies limit the persons entitled to vote to the citizens of the country. Most countries limit the voting to citizens who are legal adults under their national and / or state laws as well. Some countries also have other rules and laws to restrict various groups of citizens from being able to vote in an election, such as the legally insane.

Some countries stop serving members of military forces from voting. Others stop people in prison from voting while they’re in prison. Some stop anyone who has been convicted of a prison term longer than a set time frame from voting in the future. Other countries don’t let certain groups within their populations vote based on their gender or their ethnic heritage or their racial heritage. Some countries restrict voting to the citizens who are resident within their borders. Others don’t allow people in certain geographic areas to vote, this is common for those who live in administered territories instead of within an area designated as a full state of the country. I am not going to justify or vilify any of these restrictions, I simply state their existence.

Voter Registers

Most democratic countries have voter registers and laws setting out who can be listed and who can’t be listed in them. Many countries have both a national voter register and a state voter register, while others also have a local government voter register. In some countries the laws on who is and isn’t in the registers are the same, but that is not the case for all democracies. Some countries have compulsory voter registration and some have voluntary voter registration, while some have the people also registering their preferred political party when they register.

To further complicate the issue some countries have no national voter registers and rely solely on the state voter registers. In those countries the laws on the voter registers are set by each state and they each set their own requirements on how to validate people who register to vote.

Voting Methods

The most common method is Election Day Voting where people attend a Voting Place near where they live, they provide identification, have their name marked on the voter roll, then they mark their vote and have it put in the system by the means being used.

In some countries they have additional methods to let people vote if they can’t attend a Voting Place as above. The other most common ways are: Special Electoral Visitors, Absentee Voting, Early Voting, and Postal Voting. In each case the same basic process as above is followed.

Absentee Voting: you attend a Voting Place on Election Day and tell them you’re out of your electoral area and wish to vote. They go through the identification process, arrange ballot papers for you, let you mark the votes and seal them in an envelope which they sign as well.

Special Electoral Visitors: are people from the electoral offices who visit places where groups of people are gathered but are unable to go to a Voting Place on Election Day. These people will visit hospitals and nursing homes and similar places on Election Day. Also, some will visit such places before Election Day to help the people to register their vote in some of the other ways available to them to vote like those below.

Early Voting: you attend a Special Voting Place set aside for early voting that’s near where you live. You then go through the same process as if on Election Day. When the rolls are provided to the Voting Place your name will already be marked off as having voted.

Postal Voting: well before the Election Day you lodge a request to make a postal vote. The request usually requires you to provide clear identification of who you are and why you wish to lodge a postal vote. Once the request is granted they mark your name on the rolls as being a postal vote, thus you aren’t able to vote at a Voting Place. When an election nears they post you a set of ballot papers which you complete, seal in a return envelope, and mail back. Many countries require postal votes to be returned prior to Election Day or be postmarked on Election Day or before it to be counted in the results.

What systems are used, and where they’re used, are decided on by the governments and the laws they pass. In general, votes are made on the Election Day or in the days prior to the Election Day.


A key aspect of any good voter registration system is to have a robust system in place to validate the people on the register as being citizens who are eligible to vote in the elections, are still alive, and meet the legal requirements of sanity for the jurisdiction covered by the register. If any of these criteria are not present, then there is a risk of fraudulent voting.

A good voting system is one where the voters are checked against a validated voter register, the voters are marked when being given their ballots, the right number of ballot papers are given out, and returned. Then they’re kept safe and secure while they’re counted.


Regardless of the system in use in an election the biggest concerns are the validity and accuracy of the voter registration lists being used.


Postal Voting Systems

In most democracies they have a well established and robust postal voting system which deals with between five to thirty-five percent of the votes in each election after they lodge a request to be sent postal votes. There are a few where all of the voting is done by postal voting. Most of the systems require the return ballots to be postmarked on Election Day or before Election Day. All of these systems have a validation process for the person registering to prove they’re entitled to vote, and they require the voters to notify the voter registry of changes of their address in a timely manner. They then send postal ballots addressed to the registered voter at that specific address some weeks prior to the Election Day.

The key to these systems is the validation and registering of voters in plenty of time for the ballots to be posted to them well before Election Day so they can be marked and returned in plenty of time.


In the USA the states of Colorado: pop. 5,758,736, Hawaii: pop. 1,415,872, Oregon: pop. 4,217,737, Utah: pop. 3,205,958, and Washington: pop. 7,614,893. They have a combined population of 18,417,196, which is five point six percent of the US population, at the time of this writing.


The existing postal voting systems in all of the US states work well. However, across the USA the best estimates are about twenty percent of the total number of the voters in the elections use postal votes. When you apply this to the total voter turnout in US Presidential Elections you have about ten to twelve percent of all the eligible voters lodging postal votes because most US Presidential Elections have only between fifty to sixty-three percent of people vote in the US Presidential Elections.

Based on the above statistics to use universal postal voting in US Presidential Elections would mean the load on the system would have to increase by a factor of five as a minimum, and may go as high as a factor of ten to have all of the eligible voters in the registers. Adding validated voters to the registers will take time, so the more being added equals the longer it will take to get them checked and added.


Universal Postal Voting

In mid 2020 discussions started in the USA about using Universal Postal Voting for the 2020 US Presidential Election. While that sounds good in light of what I just wrote about postal voting, the suggested method is not the standard postal voting system. If all of the voters are in the existing state systems they would have been validated as eligible to vote and would already be having the ballots mailed to them.

However, what is being suggested is a Universal Postal Voting where the ballots are sent out to either every residence or every person on the voter registers without verifying if they’re eligible voters or checking if they want to vote or checking if they’re still alive. Added to this is the people promoting this system also want to have the Voting Places open on Election Day so people can attend them to vote. Thus this system is wide open for voting fraud.

In the current postal voting system the postal votes are only sent to voters who have been validated and requested a postal vote. Also, those getting a postal vote are marked on the rolls as having voted and can’t vote at a Voting Place on Election Day.

In the proposed universal postal voting system there’s no validation of eligibility or address of the people being sent postal votes, they aren’t marked off the rolls as having a postal vote, thus they can vote twice.


Personally, I think the USA would benefit from a Postal Vote system where every voter registers for a postal vote and is then sent one. This means a lot more work to set up, but it means there is no need to have any Voting Places open on Election Day.


Now this section on facts has been expanded on to cover all of the data people should know to fully understand the short story we can get on with the short story itself.


Is it Safe?

The question of universal postal voting in the US Presidential Election due later in the year is a very contentious issue. Some claim it’ll be safe while others see opportunities for fraud and votes being lost. All of the US states already have a process where people can register to vote by mail and have the ballots sent direct to them in advance. Many claim that is more than sufficient for those who do not want to attend a polling location on Election Day. Interesting, little is said about the states which already use a postal voting only system, or using early voting systems.

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