Early voting and vote-by-mail allows more people to vote
More options on how to vote increases voter turnout. This is essential for a strong democracy.
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At the time of writing, with over one week before election day, over 49 million Americans have already cast their vote, including over 34 million by mail. Long queues have formed outside polling stations across the US, with many citing great enthusiasm among patient voters determined to vote. In the US, election day is not a national holiday, so workers with long hours can struggle to vote in person on election day. In rural areas, voters may not live within miles (or hundreds of miles) of an in-person polling station, an issue affecting some Native American reservations. The expansion of voting-by-mail has been hugely popular - according to a survey by the Democracy Fund & UCLA Nationscape project, 37% of registered voters intended to vote-by-mail when asked in August. It is also estimated that 80 million votes will be cast by post, more than double the number in 2016. It is too early to say with certainty until after election day whether overall turnout will increase, but there is evidence to suggest early and postal voting is increasingly popular among young, Black and Latino voters. It is expected that election day will see a corresponding fall in votes cast, but the sense of enthusiasm around early voting and weeks-long early voting mobilisation campaigns such as Black Voters Matter suggest that turnout could increase. In states where early ballots can be matched to voters, around 20% of votes were cast by individuals who did not vote in that state in 2016. The sense of enthusiasm around voting and potentially significant increase in turnout suggest that early and postal voting are crucial to a renewed faith in the ballot box as a mechanism to effect change.
Early voting and voting-by-mail will not lead to an increase in turnout, it will only change the way in which people cast their vote. The record numbers of voters who have opted to vote early in person or by post is necessary given the Covid-19 pandemic - we should expect fewer votes on election day without a dramatic change in turnout overall.
Rejecting the premises