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Video Badger Talks: Mail-in voting during the pandemic

July 14, 2020 By Eric Hamilton

In this week’s Badger Talks, Barry Burden joins us to talk about how the pandemic’s big push for mail-in voting is likely to affect the election.

Cities and states are greatly expanding their mail-in voting in hopes of avoiding the spread of COVID-19 at polling stations. But most states, and most voters, are not used to this level of mail-in voting. So everyone is adapting, says Burden, professor of political science and director of the Elections Research Center at UW–Madison.

Each state handles mail-in voting differently, but in each case, a surge in mail-in votes requires a different allocation of resources than a traditional election. Polling stations still have to be staffed all while a large number of mail-in votes have to be opened and processed. “It’s more complicated than it seems, I think, to the voter who’s requesting the ballot,” Burden says.

Each state also has their own method of checking and securing mail-in votes. They might require picture identification before they mail out a ballot, as Wisconsin does. Or states may check the voter’s signature against one they have on file, or require that a witness affirms that the voter is who they say they are.

All of these changes mean that voters, and politicians, will probably need to learn a new skill: patience. As we’ve seen in some statewide elections and primaries during the pandemic, large numbers of mail-in votes can take a long time to process. So when it comes to the general election in November, Americans might not receive the instant gratification they’re used to, especially in close races.

To see more Badger Talks videos, go here. For more on UW–Madison’s expertise and research into COVID-19, see here.