Manila Bulletin - The youth vote & mail-in ballots in US elections

1 November 2020

By Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal | Manila Bulletin


On November 3, the US will conduct its elections for president/vice-president and other officials. It’s arguably the most important elections in its people’s lifetime. So, despite the pandemic, people have been energized to vote in the elections – whether they are voting for Biden-Harris or Trump-Pence.

As regards early voting in the US, which is seeing record numbers, there are two important aspects of the US elections which will have a significant role in the outcome of the race for US president. These are: The Youth Vote and Mail-In Ballots. In the US, many states allow voters to vote early. Either by personal voting, or via mail-in ballots.

The Youth Vote is generally categorized as voters between the ages of 18-29. There are some variances, with some making it 18-24 years old, while some put it at 18-35. For this discussion, we’re referring to the Youth Vote as those between 18-29.

In the numbers for early voting we’re seeing an interesting phenomenon in the US. There’s been a huge surge in the number of youth vote as compared to previous elections. What makes it even more interesting is that the surge is happening in important states that are either swing states, or states that have been traditionally Republican. These states include Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan and Georgia. Leading the states in the increase is Texas, where the youth vote is up by 600% as compared to the 2016 elections. In 2016 there were about 106,000 youth voters voted early. So far, about 753,600 youth voters have already voted. That’s a huge jump and could have a huge impact on how the race will go in Texas.

Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic, we have to ask if the surge is because young voters want to avoid the expected long lines if they vote on November 3. Or is it because people have been energized to go out and vote, because of the importance of this upcoming elections? I think it’s a combination of both. But the fact is there’s been a surge of young voters this early, especially in states that have been instrumental in reaching the crucial 270 electoral college votes needed to win as president.

The lessons learned on why there’s a surge in the youth vote can be applied in the Philippines, as we head into our May 9, 2022, elections, where I believe the youth vote could have a huge impact in deciding who our leaders for the next six years will be.

The other thing to look at in the US elections is the development in mail-in ballots. Mail-in voting (or absentee voting) has been a cornerstone of US democracy. As far back as the Civil War (which started in 1861), the US military has been using mail-in voting. By the late 1800s, some US states began extending absentee ballots to civilian voters under certain conditions.

In the Philippines, the military, media, and people who serve election duties and cannot go to their polling precinct on election day, are allowed to vote by absentee voting, called the LAV – Local Absentee Vote.

What’s very important in this US elections is how much more people have used mail-in ballots as a method of voting. The rise in demand, in practically all over the US is a good sign that more people want to vote.

However, recent developments show that machinations can be employed to possibly suppress votes. There seems to be a concerted effort to stifle mail-in voting. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the judiciary plays a role in resolving petitions that will be filed to exclude votes cast by mail but did not arrive in time.

Why is it important if the ballot was postmarked on or before election day, but arrived beyond the deadline? If you have been monitoring the developments, there is an alarming trend where ballots are not processed as fast as it should be, and opening up the possibility that even if the ballots were mailed before the deadline, they still won’t be counted because they were delivered after the deadline.

If the Philippines does expand the scope of mail-in voting for the 2022 and future elections, we could learn a lot from the experience in the US. Not really from the point of view of how to process the votes, but more importantly how people can possibly use schemes to stifle the vote or exclude the vote cast from being counted.

Stay Safe. Stay Healthy. Wear a Mask.