August 19, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 22— Voting fraud and mental health during the pandemic

Between the current need to stay at home and misinformation around voting by mail, some voters are worried about how to cast their ballots in November. But IU political scientists say multiple studies have found that there is little to no risk of voter fraud when voting by mail and that voting by mail does not benefit one political party over another. In fact, Marjorie Hershey, a professor emerita of political science at Indiana University Bloomington, says studies show that voting by mail is safe and increases voter turnout, particularly when there are fewer barriers in place to vote by mail. Political scientists have been studying voting behavior and voting turnout for a century Hershey says. Scientists have done numerous statistical examinations and have found zero partisan advantage for either party in voting by mail. Absentee voting and voting by mail involve the same process, Hershey says. The difference in their impact is that some states send absentee ballots (or requests for absentee ballots) to every registered voter, and other states require voters to make the effort to request an absentee ballot. Research has shown that the more steps a voter has to take to vote by mail the less likely a voter is to vote by mail, Hershey says. Gerald Wright, also a political science professor at IU, points out that every single thing you can do to make voting less difficult increases the vote. In terms of voter fraud, IU political scientists say countless studies have found that there is little to no evidence of fraud around voting by mail. In fact, Elizabeth Bennion, a political science professor at IU South Bend, points out that while it’s true there have been some reports of fraudulent mail-in ballots, studies have proven those are the exception, not the rule. Ballots can sometimes be rejected for errors, Bennion says, so election officials and voting organizations need to provide more voter education to the public. Claims that voting by mail “is rigged” lead people to lose confidence in the democratic process, Wright adds. If they don’t have confidence in the procedures, then two things happen: The public doesn’t participate, and they don’t believe a voting outcome is legitimate, he says.

In other news, a recent survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found an increase in symptoms of anxiety and disorders, substance use and thoughts of suicide among U.S. adults. It also identified populations at increased risk, including young adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers and caregivers of adults. Anna Mueller, a suicide researcher and professor of sociology at the Indiana University Bloomington, says while the data is helpful in showing the impact of the pandemic on American’s mental health, its greatest value is the spotlight it shines on vulnerable populations. The breakdown of the safety net of economic security is taking a massive toll, Mueller says, revealing how crucial economic stability and economic security are to an individual's wellbeing. The more vulnerable people are in terms of their socioeconomic status, the more they are suffering. According to the survey, more than half of essential workers – nurses, doctors, factory workers, custodians and grocery store clerks - reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom, and 22 percent reported suicidal thoughts. In addition to essential workers, the survey also showed the impact the pandemic is having on young adults. According to the survey 75 percent of respondents 18-24 reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom and 25 percent reported serious suicidal ideation. Mueller says the increase in this group could be due to the difficulty of imagining a future amid uncertainty. Mueller says it is important to check in with people during this time and it is essential that interventions and access to mental health care are put into place. She added that there is more work needed to understand the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health, including examining how parents are faring and Native Americans, two groups not included in the study.