Debunking voting myths for the upcoming presidential election
Here are some myths associated with voting, along with information that disproves them and additional information for the state of Massachusetts.
The upcoming Nov. 3 election is unprecedented in many ways. The coronavirus pandemic has already claimed the lives of over 220,000 Americans and cases continue to increase across the country as winter approaches. Additionally, the country is extremely polarized, with individuals taking opposing positions on a range of issues that are not typically politicized, including public health. States’ stances in regards to voting options for the upcoming election have been drastically different, with some expanding their mail-in voting services, others conducting the election entirely by mail and a small number maintaining the same voting guidelines as before. These changes have been overwhelming and confusing for many eligible voters, and the spread of misinformation doesn’t help either. Below is a list of myths associated with voting, along with information that disproves them and additional information for the state of Massachusetts. If you are not voting in Massachusetts, make sure to look at your state’s regulations and policies if you still have questions.
Myth: I have to vote in person.
Fact: There are multiple options available for people who cannot vote in-person on Election Day, including mail-in voting, absentee voting and early voting. In the 2016 presidential election, 28 states allowed individuals to apply for an absentee ballot without needing to provide an excuse, 22 allowed voters to vote early and 20 allowed absentee voting when a valid excuse was provided. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most states have relaxed their previous policies. Only Indiana, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Missouri currently require voters to indicate a valid excuse (beyond COVID-19) to request a mail-in ballot. A total of 10 states and districts, including California and the District of Columbia, have chosen to automatically send mail-in ballots to all registered voters in an attempt to reduce in-person gatherings.
MA: For this election, Massachusetts sent mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters. As of Oct. 17, 553,563 ballots had been received across the state. MA voters can apply for a mail-in ballot until 5 p.m. on Oct. 28. Any ballot with a postmark before Nov. 3 that is received by Nov. 6 will be counted. Additionally, those who receive a mail-in ballot can choose to drop them off at designated in-person voting locations. Early voting in MA started this weekend, and centers will be open on Saturday and Sunday until Oct. 30. For the first time in history, Fenway Park will serve as a voting location.
Myth: Once you register to vote, you don’t have to register again for future elections.
Fact: Always check your registration status, even when you have previously registered. This is especially important if you have moved or changed your name or any other personal information.
MA: As of Jan. 1, 2020, Massachusetts citizens will be given the option to be automatically registered to vote when they apply for or renew a driver’s license or permit, apply or renew a state ID, apply for MassHealth benefits or apply for health insurance through the Commonwealth Health Connector, per the Secretary of State’s website. If any of your personal information changes and you are not applying for any of the previously mentioned services, you will have to update your information online.
Myth: The winner of a presidential election is the one with the most votes.
Fact: In the United States, the outcome of an election is determined by the Electoral College. There are a total of 538 electors in the Electoral College. The number of electoral votes that each state receives is based on the number of members of the House of Representative (which is based on population) and the number of senators (two for each state, regardless of population). A total of 270 electoral votes are required for a candidate to win the presidency. Even if a candidate wins the popular vote, that does not guarantee that they will win the electoral vote. This is what happened in the 2016 election: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but only obtained 215 of the electoral votes.
MA: The state of Massachusstes has a total of 11 electoral votes. In the 2016 presidential election, 60.0% of the votes went to Hillary Clinton, and 33.0% of the votes went to Donald Trump. Because MA has a winner-take-all system, Clinton received all 11 electoral votes.
Myth: As a college student, you have to vote in your home state.
Fact: College students attending school out-of-state can choose to change their address and register to vote in the state where they attend college. They can also choose to vote in their home states by applying for and completing an absentee ballot. However, an individual cannot be registered to vote in two different states.
Myth: Voter fraud is common in the United States.
Fact: Voter fraud in the United States is incredibly rare (the rate is estimated to be between 0.00004% and 0.00009%). Oregon, which has held postal elections since 2000, has only reported 14 cases of voting fraud. More generally, over the past 20 years, 250 million votes have been cast by mail-in ballots. Only 204 those votes have been suspected of being the result of fraudulent use of absentee ballots, and of those 143 have been actually prosecuted. Every state has unique ways of avoiding voter fraud, with some requiring individuals to notarize their ballot prior to mailing it or using databases to crossmatch signatures.
MA: Massachusetts only requires voters choosing to mail in their ballots to sign and date the ballot where indicated. Once done, voters can send their ballots to the local election office indicated in the return envelope. No further action is required, though participants can track the status of their ballot if they so desire.
Myth: Any U.S. citizen has the right to vote.
Fact: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensured that states were not able to prevent U.S. citizens from voting on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender. However, voter suppression has continued to occur across the country through gerrymandering practices, strict rules and requirements for voter registration, voter ID laws and a lack of flexibility for those who are unable to vote in-person on Election Day. These practices make it difficult, if not impossible, for certain groups to vote. The pandemic has further magnified these issues, especially in states where rules for mail-in voting and qualifications for absentee ballots have remained the same, and immuno-compromised communities risk exposing themselves if they wish to vote.
MA: In Massachusetts, you may be asked to show an ID at the polls if you are voting for the first time in a federal election, are an inactive voter, are casting a provisional/challenged ballot or the “poll worker has reasonable suspicion that leads them to request identification,” per the Secretary of State’s website.
Myth: Presidential elections are the only ones that really matter.
Fact: While presidential elections are incredibly important, local and state elections are more likely to have an impact on your daily life. Chosen local and state leaders will determine where and how funds are used, which can have an impact on the quality of the school systems in the state, the restoration of roads and the availability of clean water. The current COVID-19 situation is perhaps one of the best examples of the importance of participating in local elections, as it has been up to each state to place restrictions and public health guidelines. Georgia, for example, encourages but does not require mask wearing, while Colorado passed a mandate that requires all individuals to wear a mask and even gives restaurants permission to deny service to customers not wearing masks.
MA: Massachusetts will hold state elections on Nov. 3. The following positions will be filled pending the results from that day:
-One seat in the U.S. Senate
-Nine seats in the U.S. House
-Eight executive offices
-All 40 seats in the MA State Senate
-All 160 seats in the MA House
-Five seats in the MA General Court
-One register of probate (Suffolk County)
Myth: Young people are voting less than ever.
Fact: Individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 have historically had the lowest turnout rates. However, turnout rates among this group increased in the 2016 election. While the change was small (1.1% when compared to 2012), all other age groups had unchanged rates of turnout. In the Nov. 2018 midterm election, turnout among 18-29 year olds “went from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group,” per the United States Census Bureau.
MA: A 2014 study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that those between the ages of 18 and 44 had a voter turnout of 46.1% in Massachusetts. For the United States voting population as a whole, the rate for this same group was 47.1%
Myth: I can’t vote if I am not registered by Election Day.
Fact: As of 2020, 21 states have policies in place that allow individuals to register to vote in-person on Election Day, including: Connecticut, Hawaii, California, Michigan, Illinois, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
MA: Unfortunately, Massachusetts does not allow individuals to register to vote on Election Day. For the upcoming presidential election, all MA voters must register by Oct. 24.