Addressing snail mail: Heading to the polls vs. voting by mail

Maya Valluru/Staff

In the day and age of ever-advancing technology and the prioritization of convenience, it seems fitting that some people are embracing what is, essentially, Uber for voting: mail-in ballots. But is voting by mail or at the polls better and which one is right for you? To determine this, there are a few factors to take into account.

Accessibility

While voting polls attempt to be accessible for people living with disabilities, the fact is that being able to mail in your vote from anywhere allows more people the chance to vote if you have a disability that makes it difficult to get out to the polling station and wait in line for long periods of time.

There is, however, the question of getting mail-in ballots to homeless people. Usually, when it comes to voting by mail, your ballot is mailed to you. If you are homeless, you could use your shelter’s address or an address of a friend, but it seems that this is one of the ways in which both voting by mail and voting at the polls fall short.

The verdict: As usual, when it comes to accessibility, there is room for improvement.

Reliability

The truth is that no one — not even the postal service — can guarantee that a package won’t go missing, and there have been cases of ballots being received after the deadline or getting rejected, thus not being counted. But there are other options for getting your mail-in ballot in on time. In the city of Berkeley, you can fill out your ballot and drop it off at a secure ballot box at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center at your convenience (as long as it is before 8 p.m. on Super Tuesday), and you can rest assured that your ballot will not get lost because the box is checked every day.

If this location is too out of the way, there are other drop boxes you can go to, although the pickup times vary and exclude weekends. Since these locations are all open for 24-hour drop off, they are a great option for people with work schedules that make finding enough time to vote at the polls difficult. The state has also tried to make these dropboxes accessible.

You do not have to worry about where to drop off your ballot or whether or not your mailed-in ballot got lost in its travels. While your polling station could be subject to hacking or faulty technology, neither of these things are common.

The verdict: For mail-in ballots, it is recommended to use a dropbox. Otherwise, you should hit the polls to be safe.

Convenience

If you have an unusual work schedule and do not want to spend your lunch break at a polling station or, more likely, take time off of work to exercise your right to vote, then mailing in your ballot can save you hours of waiting in line. All you have to do is, well, mail in your ballot.

You may not have the same experience you would if you headed to the polls with a group of friends or coworkers, but you can still wear your “I Voted” sticker that comes with the ballot and post a picture of your sealed ballot on social media.

The verdict: It is hard to deny that voting by mail is far more convenient than taking time to wait at the polls, and its convenience has even increased voter turnout in some cases.

Sense of community

We should not rule out how important it is to feel part of a community of voters, however. Going with friends can be a fun experience, especially for first-time voters. You even get to use those voting stamps to mark your ballot! And let’s be real, posting a picture on social media is just not as fun as gathering up all your friends and waiting in line together. It is pretty much like an amusement park, but instead of riding a rollercoaster, you get to exercise your right to vote. (Alright, maybe that is a bit of a stretch, but maybe some political science majors would agree.) Plus, if you have some friends who are not motivated to vote, making it into a group activity might give them the little push they need to go.

The verdict: In-person voting takes the cake when it comes to fostering a sense of community.

All in all, it really just comes down to personal preference. It seems, however, that mail-in ballots rank higher than polling stations as long as you fill out your ballot properly and mail it in early. At this point in time, there are four states that only hold elections by mail: Hawaii, Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Will more states make the change and phase out polling stations? Only time will tell, but considering that the convenience of voting by mail has increased voter turnout, perhaps more states should be looking into promoting it.

Contact Jasmin Staffer at [email protected] .