The Absentee Voting Experience
by Cayla Keiser | published Nov. 25th, 2018
Absentee voting has become increasingly popular in recent years. Sometimes, it's the only option for those who wanted to vote, but live too far away to make the journey home for election day. The difficulty of the process to request an absentee ballot, however, varies from state to state. While some of the 46 percent of out-of-state RIT students find that voting in the elections is worth the extra commitment, others may not feel the same way.
Grant Bierly, a second year Computing Security and International and Global Studies double major from New Mexico, believes that voting is a fundamental part of living in a democracy.
“I really think you should vote because honestly, it’s a great honor to be living here and if you don’t vote, I don’t really look on that favorably,” he said. “I find it especially important because people complain about whoever’s in power or whoever is elected and I ask them, ‘Did you vote?’ and they say, ‘No.’ It’s like, ‘okay, you can’t really complain.’”
Bierly thought that taking the extra steps that New Mexico requires to vote absentee were well worth it, as the process was pretty straightforward.
“I had to go online to the New Mexico government website and request a ballot. It’s the regular ‘where do you live?’ ... they pull up your voter registration information ... they can verify your identity and then they send you something in the mail,” Bierly stated.
For Alaska native Xy Hilbrink, a second year Animation major, the voting process had its ups and downs. Hilbrink said they know that in order to have input in their country’s decisions, they must exercise their right to vote.
“The only way to get change is to actually vote and get your opinion out there,” they said.
While Hilbrink did cast their vote, they weren't too keen on how their state requires multiple steps to request an absentee ballot. In Alaska, a voter must either print the forms and physically mail them in, or there is the online process.
"You still print out the [form] and you fill it in, but then you can fax or email that page to the election office, and then they can send you the hard copy [form] that you can fill in,” they said.
Regardless, it still requires a paper back and forth.
“I feel like it would be a little easier if it was online the entire way," Hilbrink said. "Because one, paper waste, and two ... making sure things get postmarked, so that adds extra cost and time for snail mail.”
Second year ASL Interpreting Education major Meryl Rogers struggled initially to find information online about New Hampshire’s absentee process, so she contacted her local representative to find more information. Once Rogers got in touch, she breezed through the process.
“[It was] easy. Easy and convenient,” she said. “And I got a free little pencil, which was incredible.”
New Hampshire residents, however, don't always have it this easy.
“I think it’s more my town is really good, because I know other people that vote in New Hampshire, [and for them] it’s a little bit different,” Rogers said.
... or Not to Vote
Carolyn Opre, a third year Human Centered Computing major, is also a New Hampshire resident. She did not vote in the midterm elections due to challenges with both registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot.
"New Hampshire makes it so that you have to sign up to vote in the state in person," Opre said. "I think it’s difficult because they have different things in different places. [The place] where I could go to request the ballot said to mail [it] in, whereas when my mom went down to talk to [the people in charge of registration] they said to email them ... so there are [different ways] that they say ... to get an absentee ballot. But also it’s hard to kind of find that information and also turn in all the paper forms ... it’s not as easy if I could just do it online or something.”
During Opre's freshman year, she tried registering to vote in New York instead. But by the time she completed the process, there wasn't enough time for her to go through the absentee process as well. This year, Opre successfully registered to vote in New Hampshire.
"I had to apparently email the people in my town to try to vote," she said. "I had printed out a request for an absentee ballot and I was going to send it, but then I didn’t have any supplies because I don’t usually keep envelopes and stamps around.”
Third year Human Centered Computing major Bakari Wilkins is from Washington, D.C. and did not vote in the recent election. He said he felt confident that his representatives would be re-elected regardless of his one vote.
“[Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting representative] had been there for a very long time and she was undoubtedly going to get elected again," Wilkins said.
Non-voting representatives can weigh in on congressional issues, but don't actually have the power to cast votes on any issues.
"I feel as if — at least on the federal level — [my vote] wouldn’t have had much of an impact," Wilkins said.
While it didn't consciously factor into his decision not to vote, Wilkins said he believed that the extra steps it takes to vote absentee are probably enough to deter some citizens from voting.
Every Vote Counts, Literally
It might seem like absentee votes are simply cast aside and forgotten about. By law, however, all votes must be included towards the overall outcome.
In Alaska, as well as other states such as Massachusetts, California and Maryland, ballots simply have to be postmarked by election day, not necessarily received. Hilbrink had some concerns about if their vote really does count.
“They come out with election results the next day, but then what about all of the other people who sent in absentee?” they asked.
Mathematically, elections can be called before the voting is complete since the remaining votes might not be enough to sway the results.
In Georgia, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams conceded to Republican Brian Kemp on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. She had been hoping to force a runoff in December; her campaign had estimated that approximately 17,759 votes would have been needed.
In close races like the one that took place in Georgia, “the deciding votes are almost always the absentee ballots,” according to the U.S. Vote Foundation.
While it might not feel like bubbling in some circles and tossing an envelope in the mail really makes much of a difference, they can be determining factors in who represents this country in the end.
Abby Kreutzer is a third year 3D Animation major from Virginia. Like Wilkins, she lives near the capitol — the heart of American politics.
“It was kind of cool just to think — even though it doesn’t always feel like it’s that big of an impact — it does matter. To me, I know it matters ... I see a lot of the political campaign stuff happening in a big way ... I know it’s always done something even though it may not feel like it,” she said, pridefully.
Rogers felt the same way and has her whole life.
“I grew up believing that voting is power. My parents always taught me: if you vote, that’s where the power comes from,” Rogers stated.
Although Wilkins believed that voting is an important way to have influence over the government, he had a different opinion on his place in voting locally.
"I wasn’t informed enough on the local level to feel very comfortable voting,” he said.
Opre, on the other hand, felt that local elections are more worth her time than those on a federal level.
“I think it’s good to do, but I think it’s generally better for smaller town things. The only time I have ever voted was for my town’s elections," she said. “If it’s more connected, I’m more likely to vote.”
Historically, citizens aged 18–29 have the lowest voter turnout. Initial results show that the youth voter demographic turnout is approximately 13 percent, up by two percent from 2014. But there is still more work to be done.
According to The Atlantic, despite the increase in early voting amongst young people, “they still made up the lowest percentage of early voters.”
“With modern technology, it’s getting easier and easier [to vote],” Bierly said. “Where I’m from [New Mexico], they give you a month to vote where you can do early voting. So there’s really no excuse."
The presidential election is two years away. If you choose to vote, absentee ballots are always an available option.
"No matter what political affiliation," Bierly said. "I always encourage people to vote."