Mail-In Voting – The Right to Vote

The Presidential election of 1864 was held during the Civil War. On the ballot was Abraham Lincoln for the National Union Party and George McClellan of the Democratic Party. The Democrats were a divided party. Some wanted a negotiated peace with the South while others wanted a continuation of the war. The National Union Party was a temporary name for the Republican Party to attract Democrats who wanted a continuation of the war and border state voters.

The 1864 election saw the beginning of another election practice. Soldiers wanted the right to vote. All but one state (Pennsylvania) required that voting to be done in person. With many men deployed to fight the war, 20 more states began to allow soldiers to vote by mail.

Without a change in voting practices for the 1864 election-*, there would have been few voters. Most men were on battlefields far from home. Women and African Americans were not allowed to vote. It’s hard to imagine what a Presidential election would be like with very few voters.

At the time, voting by mail was controversial. The Republican Party favored voting by mail while Democrats opposed it, fearing that the military leaders would tamper with the results.

Since voting practices are a state issue, there were challenges to mail-voting in nine states. The Supreme Court in four states disallowed mail-voting. President Lincoln’s overwhelming victory of 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s 21 seemed to have squelched the controversy.

By the end of the 19th Century, many states allowed mail-voting for those who were homebound or not at home on Election Day. The issue of mail-voting remained controversial until recent years.

In the 2016 election, there were 33 million votes cast by mail. There were claims made that many of these votes were illegal. A commission was established to investigate these claims. The commission disbanded finding no evidence of widespread illegal voting. In the past 20 years, there have been only 143 criminal convictions out of 250 million mail-in votes.

Was the Civil War a beginning of a new way of voting or will in-person voting remain the choice of most Americans? During the COVID pandemic year of 2020, 43 percent of Americans voted by mail. Will mail-in voting remain the choice of Americans? Only time will tell.

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“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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