ATLANTA – In Georgia, voting by mail means an absentee ballot, something you can obtain without actually being absent.
Georgia is one of many states that allows you to vote absentee without offering any excuse explaining why you can’t make it to the polls. Due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has already received nearly 1.5 million requests for absentee ballots, more than the total cast during the 2016 Presidential election.
The practice of absentee voting began back during the Civil War as a means of allowing Confederate and Union soldiers to mail their ballots from the battlefield. Following the Civil War, states began to allow private citizens to vote absentee if they were away from home or seriously ill on election day.
In the 1980s, California became the first state to allow voters to request an absentee ballot without offering an excuse.
Kennesaw State Political Science Professor Kerwin Swint said other states followed suit.
“They were concerned about voter access,” said Swint. “They were concerned about the administrative cost and labor of going through these requests, denying some, approving others.”
The Council of State Governments tells us that, in general, states see no-excuse absentee voting as a way to open doors for people who might not otherwise vote.
“Those with disabilities, lack of transportation, childcare, and work schedules that don’t allow them to participate during the set hours of polling places may find it easier to vote by mail,” said The Counsel of State Governments’ Taylor Lansdale. “Allowing no-excuse absentee voting may also limit lines at polling locations. Some studies indicate that allowing for mail-in voting may even increase participation in certain elections.”
Emory Political Science Professor Audra Gillespie points out that times have changed since the days when every state required an excuse.
“As we’ve seen our work patterns change over time, many states have moved in the direction of trying to make voting as easy as possible,” said Gillespie.
There are still those states that require an excuse to vote absentee. The reasons vary but include the cost of printing a high volume of absentee ballots and the potential for voter error.
By the way, 10 states allow you to make one request for an absentee ballot. After that, authorities will send you one for every election.