I’m Michaela Bethune, Head of Campaigns at DoSomething.org, the largest tech not-for-profit exclusively dedicated to young people, social change, and civic action. I just did an AMA a few weeks ago for National Voter Registration Day and I’m excited to be back to answer more of your questions about the American voting system on another holiday related to voting.

Much like voter registration, we’ve done so much prep work to ensure that the millions of registered young people turn out to vote this fall. In creating the best campaigns to help people find polling places, request absentee ballots, and make plans for how they plan to vote, I’ve become adept in the best practices and research around getting out the vote.

Today is National Absentee Ballot Day! On this inaugural year of the holiday, we’re celebrating the millions of voters who make their voice heard by absentee ballot. Not many know that there is a sizable portion of voters who vote before Election Day. In 2016, 40% of all ballots were cast early and in 16 states, early voting made up more than 50% of all votes cast.

Wondering what state tried to ban early voting on college campuses? Have logistical questions about how you can vote early? Or the impact that absentee voting has on elections? Or even wondering which states outlaw liquor sales on Election Day? Ask Me Anything about early voting, voter suppression, rights at the polls, or any other topic you think of!

While you’re waiting for an answer, take 2 minutes and make sure you’re registered to vote and that your address is up to date by heading to vote.dosomething.org. And if you plan on voting absentee, it’s not too late to request your absentee ballot at vote.dosomething.org/request.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/cassqkcey6q11.jpg

Comments: 133 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

Roughneck1629 karma

Where can I get some in-depth information about local candidates and ballot initiatives? I know which congressional and gubernatorial candidates I'll be supporting, but there'll be other issues and candidates on the ballot.

How can I vote as an informed voter and not blindly support a candidate based on whether they have a D or R after their name?

ZIP code is 20755 if you're curious.

HeadOfCampaigns25 karma

Great question! WeVote provides information about what's on your ballot, and shows which organizations also endorse each ballot measure. This allows you to easily understand each ballot measure, and see if those who you support (outside of parties) endorse each measure.

Ballotpedia is also a nonpartisan digital encyclopedia, that helps breakdown ballot measure per district in a digestible, objective way.

Iylivarae28 karma

As a Swiss person: Why on earth is there something like voter registration? Shouldn't just every citizen of a certain age automatically be registered to vote? Just from what I hear through the news, the voting system in the US seems to be a bit shitty.

HeadOfCampaigns25 karma

Hear that, voting in the U.S. is complicated and confusing, especially since states administer elections -- not the federal government.

There's a huge push across the country to convert to automatic voter registration (when a citizen turns 18, they are automatically added to the voter rolls). 13 states + DC have already approved AVR, with many more considering proposals this year.

call_shawn19 karma

How do you respond to comments that your vote doesn't matter in national elections?

HeadOfCampaigns65 karma

Great Q! Here are my top three ways to respond to these comments:

  1. Politicians don't just look at what party people vote, but what groups of people vote. So, for example, if 75% of voters 65+ vote consistently in every elections, politicians will tailor their policies to those who actually turn out to vote. Conversely, if only 25% of those 18 - 29 vote, then there's lower incentive for politicians to prioritize the issues important to that voting bloc.

  2. Once you vote, you’ll be on the voter file (which is public information). That means, when you contact your elected officials to advocate for an issue, they will also check whether or not you turn out to vote. If you are a consistent voter (you turn out regularly for elections) your voice actually matters more to elected officials.

  3. Lastly, local elections can definitely be impacted by your vote (things like mayors, school boards, important ballot measures on social issues, etc). So many elections have been decided by one vote. A state election last year was tied, so the winner was selected by drawing names out of a hat.

Orangutan14 karma

Has anyone in Congress ever put forth a Bill to make Election Day a national holiday?

HeadOfCampaigns10 karma

Hey everyone, with midterms less than a month away, I'm here to answer any and all questions related to voting. It's estimated 50% of all votes this year will be cast before election day due to early and absentee voting. So, let's get into it!

SingShredCode6 karma

I’ve been voting absentee since I turned 18 (no polling place). Each election, I wonder if my ballot is getting counted but fill it out anyways, just in case.

How do they count absentee ballots? Do they? I’m in CA.

HeadOfCampaigns16 karma

Yes! In all elections, absentee ballots are counted. It's a common misconception that absentee ballots aren't counted because they are usually counted during, but also after Election Day. If you're curious about the actual process for election officials in CA for counting, you can find that in Section 8 here: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/uniform-vote-counting-standards/

Rinthrah6 karma

In the States if you own multiple properties are you able to vote in multiple counties/states or is it a primary residence kind of thing. If it's the former is that effectively giving wealthier people (people who own multiple properties) more than one vote? If it's the latter who decides primary residence and is there the possibility it can lead to gerrymandering in places that are popular with second home owners, which I would assume would often be less populated rural locations?

Al_Ashrad9 karma

I believe it is a primary residence thing. In my state at least there is an audit for double-voting as we have Election Day Registration and they have to make sure people aren't voting in multiple areas. As for which residence is the primary residence, that's typically a matter of voter intent, so if you have multiple places where you qualify to vote, you pick one.

HeadOfCampaigns10 karma

Hey! +1 to the above. Also, since states administer elections, not the federal government, policies vary -- meaning that you could violate one state's laws, while being fine in another. NCSL does a good breakdown of what double-voting laws already exist: http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/double-voting.aspx

knockdownbarns5 karma

Who owns the voting machines in each state? Are they in any way involved in the vote counting process?

HeadOfCampaigns9 karma

States and counties own their voting machines! If they use DRE (Direct-Recording Electronic) machines, then yes -- those machines automatically tabulate votes.

421115 karma

I’ve never voted absentee before. If I filled out my form to get one last week how long should it take for me to receive my ballot in the mail?

HeadOfCampaigns2 karma

Hey! It really depends based on state -- some states after receiving an application (within 45 days of the Election), send it overnight. I can provide more detail about your state specifically if you'd like!

421112 karma

I’m in Atlanta Georgia if that helps

HeadOfCampaigns6 karma

You should be receiving it pretty soon if you sent it in last week. In Georgia specifically, it's possible that the record high absentee ballot requests have caused some backlog (you can read more about that here: https://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/georgia-s-governor-s-race-seeing-record-numbers-of-requests-for-absentee-ballots/849239850 )

QueenCuttlefish5 karma

How do you get an absentee ballot? I'm in Florida. ZIP 34758.

HeadOfCampaigns12 karma

Florida has no-excuse absentee voting! You can request it at this link: https://vote.dosomething.org/request

Onepopcornman5 karma

I see a lot of concern about computer based voting and voter machine vulnerability. I've heard murmurs about returning to paper ballots....Do you feel like tampering is a concern in electronic voting machines? Would returning to paper ballots represent less, the same, or greater overall risk to tampering?

HeadOfCampaigns11 karma

Oof... there are many threats when it comes to ensuring we have free and fair elections, one of which being tampering with voting machines.

However, I'd argue there are more pervasive, vetted, systemic threats to free & fair elections, such as: (1) gerrymandering and (2) restrictive voting laws. Election security is definitely a threat as well, and I think this research from the Brennan Center does an excellent job detailing research behind each of these threats:


Al_Ashrad3 karma

Thanks for doing this again. This was my question from last time and I'm still looking for an answer if you have any insights.

Wisconsin seems to be ignoring part of its state law that authorizes the option of provisional voting for voters who cannot provide proof of residence at the time of registration. I have read the relevant law Wis. Stat. s 6.97(1) and the state's Election Day Manual and I don't understand why a provisional ballot is not an option in this scenario. Any thoughts?

HeadOfCampaigns3 karma

Sorry I didn’t get to your question last time! When you say that Wisconsin is ignoring part of its state law, is this coming from personal experience or from someone you know?

Just wanna make sure that I understand the full context before I give you an answer because based off of what I know, you’re right -- it should be an option!

Al_Ashrad4 karma

I used to work in Wisconsin elections, so I know they don't authorize a provisional ballot for an election day registration without proof of residence (see the manual citation), despite what the state law seems to say. I haven't personally been affected by this, but it has bothered me for a long time as no one can seem to give me a satisfactory answer on why a provisional ballot isn't an option for voters in this situation. A voter may not have time to go get a proof of residence before polls close, so a provisional ballot seems like the only reasonable solution, but alas, it's not authorized per the state manual.

HeadOfCampaigns7 karma

Hmm. That seems odd. Here’s what I’d like to do: If you’re comfortable with it, send me DM with your email and we’ll see if we can get you in touch with folks about looking into this more. It seems wild that something like that is happening and we’ve got connections to a bunch of different orgs that do work around fair elections and voter disenfranchisement that we could put you in touch with.

HeadOfCampaigns3 karma

Hey all, thanks for these important questions about the weird, complicated world of voting! Taking a break now, but will jump back on later this afternoon to answer any other questions you may have!

And if you haven't already, take 2 mins today to request you absentee ballot here: vote.dosomething.org/request.

Rock on!

ObjectionableOctopus3 karma

I'm registered to vote in Texas and will be abroad for the entire early voting period and on Election Day. Is it possible to request an absentee ballot to a foreign address? If not, any other advice? I'd really like to vote in this election.

HeadOfCampaigns7 karma

You definitely can! The Federal Voting Assistance Program makes it easier for citizens abroad to vote absentee. All the info you need here: https://www.fvap.gov/

TheeSweeney3 karma

Is it true that we have voting on Tuesday so that back in the day farmers could get to town, vote, and get home in time to sell their wares at the market?

HeadOfCampaigns8 karma

Yes! The United States was an agrarian society in late 1700s/1800s, which meant farmers needed to travel to get to their polling places (sometimes a full day!) -- Tuesdays didn't coincide with market day, which made it convenient for people who did have to sell their goods.

Moetown843 karma

In your opinion, what is the most fair voting method? I have been hearing about instant runoff voting and other methods other than simple majority, and am curious about your opinion and what you have seen that has worked well around America and elsewhere? Thanks!

HeadOfCampaigns10 karma

Definitely a lot of meaningful debate around this topic when it comes to voting methods. For me, I'm looking at systems, methods, and policies that allow us to have an electorate that most accurately represents our population. To get a little soap box-y, democracy only works for the people, when as many people as possible participate. So, let's get a system that supports that dream.

Broadly, looking outside of the U.S. there's a lot of merit to those countries that have automatic voter registration, meaning if you are a citizen of that country, you're automatically registered to vote. These countries see significantly higher voter turnout, and thereby have an electorate that more accurately represents their populations.

There's new research in the U.S. that demonstrates having "vote by mail" policies in your state, significantly increases the # of people who actually vote, as it lowers many barriers people (especially those who are typically disenfranchised) experience at the polls. More on that here: https://electionlab.mit.edu/research/voting-mail-and-absentee-voting

ssnoyes3 karma

  1. Where can I find the list of all my representatives at all levels in one place? I know of sites that list my federal and state congressional reps. and senators, but I'm also represented by a mayor, a city council, school board, sheriff, railroad commissioner, various county and district judges, a county clerk, and probably other positions that I don't even remember exist until they show up on the ballot.
  2. Why the controversy with voter ID requirements? If requiring voters to show ID is somehow discriminatory, what else exists to prevent voter fraud?

HeadOfCampaigns8 karma

  1. You should be able to see ALL your reps after inputting your address here: http://myreps.datamade.us/ (Made possible by the Google Civic Information API).

  2. The controversy around voter ID requirements is largely due to the fact that voter ID has historically (and today) been used to suppress the votes of young people, minorities, etc. Voter ID is not straightforward, which makes it more difficult for people to vote. For instance, certain states don't allow college students to use their college ID as a valid voter ID, despite the fact that they may not have driver's licenses. To your question about voter fraud -- the problem is much less pervasive than is commonly perceived (https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/debunking-voter-fraud-myth). In terms of what could be put in place to prevent it, there's a healthy discussion in the space right now about whether or not it's even necessary, since it is such a small affected population and punishment is severe.

s_i_m_s2 karma

How many states don't require a 3rd party to verify your identity before mailing?

I'm in oklahoma and to vote absentee I have to have my affidavit notarized before sending but I hear in some other states people are able to just enclose a copy of their identification.

Second question;
How many states don't require postage for absentee voters?
Oklahoma does.

HeadOfCampaigns5 karma

1) Most states don't require a 3rd party to verify before mailing. The exceptions here are: North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Minnesota, Alabama, Alaska, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

2) It actually depends on your county. Some counties require postage, others don't (sometimes it even depends on how many pages your ballot turns out to be).

Iamien1 karma

I can vote in-person absentee tomorrow in Indiana. If I do so, does the chance of my vote being counted get reduced at all statistically?

HeadOfCampaigns3 karma

Your vote will still get counted. All early votes will still get counted the same as voting at the polls on election day, whether you vote early in-person, or by-mail.

xj3711 karma

Can you tell me what happens in polling places that are not handicap/wheelchair accessible?

HeadOfCampaigns6 karma

Nationwide, physical barriers to polling places have gone down since the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002. And technically before a polling place is designated, the county should have completed an ADA inspection. Still, there are thousands of polling places that are not accessible: https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/687556.pdf

Since states administer elections, there have been pushes on a state-by-state basis for legislation that would make polling places more accessible. For most states, if a polling place is not accessible, you can vote at the nearest polling place that is.