By: Daniel Wachman — Senior Political Correspondent
This is an election unlike any other in American history. Citizens across the United States are committed to exercising their civic duty by casting their votes in the 2020 election even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With a grueling presidential election at the top of the ticket and competitive races up and down the ballot, voter turnout is expected to smash records, despite the challenges of voting during a pandemic.
In recent months, with the expansion of the vote-by-mail system throughout the United States, the integrity of this year’s elections has come into question, especially at the national level. President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that the mail-in ballot system will lead to unprecedented fraud in the elections and that the presidential race will be “rigged.” Democrats, including presidential nominee Joe Biden, have fought back against Trump’s claims, instead encouraging as many people as possible to vote this year. Secretaries of State of both parties across the United States have spoken out against the president’s rhetoric, including Republican Kim Wyman of Washington, who penned an article in MarketWatch in support of vote-by-mail.
A study by The Heritage Foundation concluded that absentee ballot fraud rates in the United States since 2000 are about 0.00006%, roughly seven or eight cases per year nationwide. Ellen Weintraub, the commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, has repeatedly stated that expanding vote-by-mail is not linked to higher fraud rates. A Snopes fact-check found the president’s claim that vote-by-mail “substantially” increases voter fraud to be false. Yet, the president continues to decry increased absentee voting.
The president’s opposition to mail-in voting and claims of imminent fraud have outraged many voters and elected officials. “I think the argument that our election system is fraudulent is outrageous,” said Mr. Sean O’Reilly, history and AP government teacher at Sharon High and a Sharon voter. “It undermines our democracy. Without faith in our electoral system, the entire experiment in self-government will collapse,” he added.
O’Reilly, who dropped off his ballot for the September primary and plans to do so for the November election, says he would feel comfortable mailing in his vote to an extent, but prefers the certainty of directly handing his ballot off to be counted.
In a recent Washington Post/University of Maryland poll, nearly three in four American voters said they are comfortable with universal vote-by-mail this year, with half of voters planning to either mail in or drop off their ballots. In addition, eighty percent of those surveyed feel confident that their vote will be counted accurately, a rebuke of the president’s insistence that the election will be rife with fraud.
Senior Alex Tao, a first-time voter who will be voting in-person on Election Day, says he would also feel comfortable voting by mail, but wants his first voting experience to be memorable. Tao says he believes that much of the rhetoric spread by President Trump regarding voter fraud is “grossly over-exaggerated.”
Asked if they believe the election will be free and fair this year, both O’Reilly and Tao expressed concerns that not all votes will be counted nationwide, either due to the results of pending court cases or the actions of political operatives and elected officials.
“I do not have complete faith that all voters will have a chance to have their voices heard,” said Tao, citing the recent use of fake ballot boxes in California. However, he says that he believes these incidents are isolated and will not have a substantial effect on the results of the election.
Election officials such as Sharon Town Clerk Mark Hogan are working hard to make sure every citizen knows the elections will continue safely and fairly this year. “Voter fraud really is not an issue. The way the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts]’s system works makes voting twice virtually impossible,” said Hogan, adding that the public “should not be worried at all” about voter fraud.
Hogan, who was elected in June, says that he and his staff have never seen an election like this one before, yet despite the complications of vote-by-mail and expanded early voting, he is confident that the election will continue securely and efficiently. Hogan also encourages anyone to get involved in the election, regardless of whether or not they can vote.
“Even if you are not old enough to vote, you can impact the election,” said Hogan. Referencing a group of Sharon High students who will be working the polls on Election Day. “They may not be able to vote, but without their help, the election could not possibly run as smoothly as I expect it to,” he added.
Asked about the stakes of the election, Hogan states, “I have always said, ‘If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.’ The fact of the matter is that what you vote for affects your life. Even if there are two candidates that you don’t like, there are differences, and one of them is better for you.”
O’Reilly delivered a much starker message. “Democracy is on the ballot,” he said. “I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I sadly don’t think it is.”
All Massachusetts voters are eligible to vote by mail this year. Ballots can be dropped off at Sharon Town Hall, where early in-person voting is also available until Friday, October 30th. The polls will be open at Sharon High School on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, from 7 AM to 8 PM. Learn more about voting in Sharon at www.townofsharon.net/town-clerk.