Neither Rain, Sleet, Snow, nor Voter Apathy…

A voter returns his vote-by-mail ballot in the...

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My Oregon mail-in ballot is hot out of my mailbox and sitting on the dining room table. I got my voter information booklet a week or two ago. The booklet lists all the candidates and their backgrounds, qualifications, and other trivial minutiae. It also lists the ballot initiatives along with arguments for and against as well as the identity of the authors of those arguments. Voting in Oregon is so easy no one really has an excuse NOT to exercise their civic duty to vote.

From personal experience I can tell you that I have over two weeks to peruse the election booklet, talk with my friends over a pint at Bluegrass Jam, read the recommendations in my local papers, and make informed decisions all before election day. My employer doesn’t lose man-hours while I stand in line at a polling place and all I have to do is drop my ballot in the mailbox. Actually, I don’t even do that. There’s a ballot box with a security camera trained on it on campus. I drop mine off on the way to work.

Yet I so often hear people who think vote-by-mail is an inherently flawed system. Their complaints generally fall under three distinct categories: potential for increased fraud, costs, and undue influence. I won’t go into specifics of all the reasons why but you can catch most of them at the ‘No Vote By Mail Project’ website.

http://novbm.wordpress.com/why-not-vbm/

But let me offer a statistic from Oregon’s experience: Oregon’s voter turnout increased by 10% after vote by mail was instituted.* This is for both Presidential and mid-term elections. That last part is telling in that mid-terms generally draw lower turnout in a conventional election.

Most scholars agree that low voter turnout is a result of the institutional barriers theory, or to put it simply, it’s a pain in the ass to stop your daily routine, go register, show up at the polling place, wait in line, caucus, etc. Vote by mail eliminates most of that resulting in increased turnout, lower costs, greater participation from the marginalized, and convenience for rural residents.

Most of the complaints I read about regarding vote-by-mail smack of the same complaints from those who successfully shut down ACORN. They have a vested interest in voter apathy and lower turnout. Or they have a deep-seated mistrust in infrastructure that exists in conventional elections such as Diebold fraud or paranoid mistrust of the US Postal Service. There will always be potential for error in any voting method. I would argue that vote-by-mail is the method with the least amount of error in it since there’s always a verifiable paper trail in case of a recount. In reality, Oregon is a prime example of how eliminating institutional barriers can increase voter participation that far outweighs the concern of the Post Office losing your ballot.

* Voting by Mail: Turnout and Institutional Reform in Oregon. Richey, Sean. Georgia State University


About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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28 Responses to Neither Rain, Sleet, Snow, nor Voter Apathy…

  1. shiloh says:

    Voting in Oregon is so easy one really has an excuse NOT to exercise their civic duty to vote.~~~~~Perhaps you meant no eligible voters in Oregon has a rational excuse not to vote.hmm, double negatives can be confusing.>Having voted by absentee ballot while detached and stationed on (2) different USN ships, the process is very easy, unless of course, one has former OH Sec of State, Ken Blackwell, trying to steal the election for cheney/bush by disenfranchising several minority voters in the 2004 general election.>One of JFK’s favorite quotes:The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality. ~ DanteLikewise, a special place in hell should be preserved for those who disenfranchise voters and commit voter fraud!

  2. shiloh says:

    reserved, not preservedcarry on

  3. shrinkers says:

    @shortchain and filistroThis actually belongs in the Jell-O thread. By that thread is moderating me. And I think it’s a thought applicable anytime.Jeff and GROG illustrated another aspect of the term “conspiracy theory,” in addition to the points you raised in that thread.Not only do many people no longer know what the word “conspiracy” means … and not only are conservatives frequently unable to separate fact-based descriptions of events from wild nonsense with no supporting evidence whatever …… but also, the term “conspiracy theory” has become merely a cuss word. The phrase now means, “I disagree with you and want to discredit your ideas by simply characterizing them as something worthy of ridicule. I don’t want to take the time to actually consider or dispute what you said. I want to shut off discussion of your idea. So I will condemn it by calling it a ‘conspiracy theory,’ and I will thereby hope everyone will begin to ignore you, lest they be tarred as someone who gives credit to ‘conspiracy theories’.”It’s the same way they use terms like “socialist.” It’s now a simple insult, with no actual meaning.

  4. mclever says:

    I don’t live in Oregon, but I often vote by mail. Because I travel frequently for business, I have voted early or absentee (by mail) in most of the elections for the past 10 years. I’m a relatively conscientious and informed voter, but it seems like there’s always some candidate or initiative that I don’t know about until I see the ballot. One benefit of voting by mail is that I always have a chance to research the matter in question before making my decision.Count me in favor of Vote By Mail!:-)

  5. WA7th says:

    I’m all for conspiracy theories regarding electronic voting machines. I hate those things, but I would still much prefer having the choice to vote in person on voting day. I enjoyed feeding my own ballot into the box without first stuffing it into two envelopes, walking out with confidence that my votes would be counted because I SAW that my ballot had already been counted as received.Both live voting and mail voting have potential barriers. A stable permanent address is not a requirement to register to vote, but is certainly a requirement for being able to receive a ballot. For a few years we had the ideal system in place when they relaxed the rules for voting absentee, giving voters in my area the choice. Closing all the local polling places was only done to close holes in the county budget, and I believe that doing that has disenfranchised as many potential voters as having very strict rules for voting absentee. Both methods should be available.

  6. Mr. Universe says:

    @shilohYou caught me just as I published and was changing the sentence. It originally said “one really has no excuse NOT to…”, which sounded awkward. You happened to download as I was editing.

  7. Jeff says:

    Most scholars agree that low voter turnout is a result of the institutional barriers theory, or to put it simply, it’s a pain in the ass to stop your daily routine, go register, show up at the polling place, wait in line, caucus, etc. Vote by mail eliminates most of that resulting in increased turnout, lower costs, greater participation from the marginalized, and convenience for rural residents.=============There’s also the argument to be made that if you’re so marginally involved that you won’t take a (paid) hour off from work, that you’re probably not the kind of voter we want picking our leaders. (Elitism — my bad).The problem I have is that voter lists are horribly inaccurate. In my town it lists people who have been dead for years — not for voter fraud, but because the rolls are never verified and purged. It’s particularly scary when you see multiple families living in the same single-family home.Mailing out ballots when you can’t be sure if the recipients are still living where they used to (or still living at all!) has inherent problems.I’d rather be sure that only people who are entitled to vote, get the opportunity. And if some have so little civic involvement that registering and voting are “too much work,” I don’t think we’ve lost much.

  8. Mr. Universe says:

    @JeffI can’t speak to your area (particularly because I don’t know where it is) but they’re pretty diligent about staying on top of that sort of stuff here. They rejected one of my ballots once because they thought it wasn’t my signature. Something I’ve been practicing for forty years. Ihad to come in and sign a card for comparison. If I fail to update my address I don’t get a ballot. Widespread election fraud is difficult to get away with here. Could be different where you are.

  9. shrinkers says:

    @JeffI you have any evidence of actual voter fraud, please report it. Such things are taken seriously.Otherwise, the problem is more one of denying access to vote. Minnesota has a great system, with increasingly useful absentee voting and early voting, also easy same-day registration. It all works great here, and allows one of the most secure and easiest-to-use and accurate systems anywhere in the country.

  10. Monotreme says:

    There is a part of me that will miss the ritual pomp & circumstance of dressing up (yes, I do that) to go to my Church of Democracy and vote.However, I see the sense and convenience of vote-by-mail. My family in Colorado uses it, including my Dad who taught me the whole “voting is sacred” thing. We don’t have it here in Utah; we do vote early, though.

  11. mclever says:

    I’m confused as to when the time taken to vote would ever be paid.How do you manage to get PAID time to vote, Jeff??

  12. Realist says:

    Funny thing about absentee ballot fraud. In the first gubernatorial election that Dino Rossi lost, the then-chair of the state Republican Party made a huge stink about dead people voting. There was a good-sized investigation into precisely this in King County (where liberal Seattle is). And they did, in fact, find a handful of votes from dead people.There was a small flaw in the fraud claims, however. The dead people were still alive at the time they voted. They just happened to die in the small window between putting the ballot in the mailbox and the time the votes were counted.So should the votes of people who die a couple of days before election day be rescinded? Is it that important that every voter actually be alive on election day, rather than when the vote was cast? Can anyone honestly claim that the vote-right-before-the-grave case is fraud?I’m curious to hear your opinions on this.

  13. mclever says:

    Realist, to answer your question, if the voter was alive on the day the absentee ballot was post-marked, then it isn’t voter fraud. And, I believe the vote should count.It seems that I hear a lot of rumbling about alleged voter fraud, but every time the allegations are investigated, it turns out to be nonexistent or very minor in relation to the overblown rumblings. I’m not saying voter fraud never happens, but it’s extremely rare.

  14. Mule Rider says:

    “I’m curious to hear your opinions on this”I’ve wondered if that wasn’t the case on many occasions when accusations of “dead” votes fly. In my opinion, it’s certainly not fraud (just odd timing), and I’d be fine with letting the votes count; however, I can see a valid argument for not allowing the vote to count also.

  15. filistro says:

    @Muley… I can see a valid argument for not allowing the vote to count also.What would the argument be? It seems to me if a vote can be invalidated because the person who cast it is now deceased… couldn’t a will be invalidated for the same reason? How about a legal contract signed by a now-deceased person… is it not still binding on the deceased person’s estate? (I actually don’t know the answer to that in general terms, though I do know that every publishing contract has a clause stipulating that it remains binding on the author’s “heirs and assignees.”)

  16. Realist says:

    @filistro,The argument would be that the voter must be eligible to vote on election day. If the voter has died prior to election day, then the voter is no longer eligible to vote on election day.That said, I think the effort involved in excluding those votes exceeds the importance in doing so. I’m sure that candidates who lose by a handful of votes would have a different opinion. 🙂

  17. shortchain says:

    Realist,It obviously depends on the election law of the particular state whether the ballot is a legitimate vote. Whatever the law, however, there can be no fraud. It seems equally unlikely that the newly ineligible voter, deprived of both life and the right to have their vote counted, will be able to sue to regain their rights to vote.Here in Minnesota the local tea party group has as their primary push a call to prevent “voter fraud” — of which they have no actual evidence, just things that, if viewed in just the right light, and misinterpreted via a big dose of paranoia, might indicate that, just possibly, somebody voted that shouldn’t. Unfortunately, when investigated, these turn out to be baseless, but, in a display of collective insanity, they just go on to the next instance.Now they want to turn out the troops and besiege the polling places where there might be Democrats. They’ll be showing their picture ID’s to the people behind the table (not required in MN), which will only have the effect of slowing the process down and making them appear stupid, and they’ll be taking pictures of suspicious people and taking notes of license plates.Unfortunately, like right-wingers everywhere, that might have been minimally effective in a past election, but, thanks largely to their misguided efforts, they’ve nominated a candidate this time who is going to go down to defeat in a landslide, and it won’t matter a whit.

  18. Mule Rider says:

    Ditto what Realist said. Also, I don’t think a will is a valid comparison. Carrying out someone’s final wishes of how to handle their estate is a bit different than choosing a government leader. How my 90-year old neighbor “Abraham” divies up his house and fortune among his 3 kids, 8 grandkids, and 5 great-grandkids is really none of my business and has no effect me. Him possibly casting a vote that negates mine, especially if he’s dead and gone by Election Day, in choosing someone that I might be stuck with for the next 2/4/6 years does affect me. I’m with Realist in that the effort to track those situations down doesn’t seem worth it just to weed out a handful of ill-timed votes, but it’s good to have a legitimate cutoff date.

  19. filistro says:

    Off topic… (and probably big enough for its own topic… where’s our election thread? 🙂 I’m intrigued by Sarah Palin’s increasingly naked threats to the GOP… like the one yesterday… that they must embrace the Tea Party or else. “Nice little political party you’ve got here” she is in effect saying to the GOP establishment. “Kind of a shame if anything happened to it…”I now believe there is an excellent chance the nomination process will produce a third party. If Palin runs there are only two possibilities:1.) She wins the nomination and horrified moderate Republicans draft someone like Romney to go third party2.) She loses the nomination and outraged Teapers mount their own third party bidThis may well happen with anybody they nominate… but it is certain to happen if Palin runs.

  20. filistro says:

    Muley, Realist et al… If a vote was valid the day it was cast, I believe it remains valid regardless of what happens to the voter between voting and election day.If there is disagreement about this, the only way to resolve it is to disallow early voting. You can’t have both scenarios… legal early voting and the possibility of invalidating those legal early votes due to ensuing circumstances.

  21. shiloh says:

    Pretty sure Obama’s grandmother voted for him absentee before she passed.This is probably why all the t’s must be crossed and i’s dotted when one votes absentee ie signatures and postmarks, etc. as there are several reasons absentee ballots are rejected which goes back to Jeffrey’s ad nauseam argument about education.Many voters are just too stupid to know how to follow simple instructions … er how to spell when teabaggers make anti-Obama hate speak, racist signs.>I submit to you teabaggger leader Michele Bachmann lol ~ who’d like to see the federal government returned “to its original size and constitutional limitations and to restore the 9th and 10th amendments.” ?!?hmm, women and minorities wouldn’t be able to vote, slaves would be constitutional, ya Minnasooota wouldn’t be a state 😉 etc. etc.You go girl!Somehow, the deliberate dumbing down of America is not quite adequate when talking about the current ignorance of the Rep er teabagger party …angle, o’donnell, joe wilson, rand paul, jim bunning, palin, jan brewer, etc.The best govt. corporate America can buy!America survives despite itself, but every empire falls eventually as just ask the Romans. I digress.but, but, but Rome didn’t have the capacity to destroy the entire planet as humans have evolved. Bigger toys mean bigger consequences, eh.Have a nice day! 🙂and the band played on …

  22. Mr. Universe says:

    “Where’s our election thread?”I’m headed to campus and will put one up within the hour

  23. Jeff says:

    Mr. Universe wrote:@JeffI can’t speak to your area (particularly because I don’t know where it is) but they’re pretty diligent about staying on top of that sort of stuff here. They rejected one of my ballots once because they thought it wasn’t my signature. Something I’ve been practicing for forty years. Ihad to come in and sign a card for comparison. If I fail to update my address I don’t get a ballot. Widespread election fraud is difficult to get away with here. Could be different where you are.===============I live in the SF Bay area. My theory is that it’s just more difficult to keep track in urban areas than in rural areas, especially in poor areas where people rent and move more frequently.My conspiratorial side has also noticed that it tends to be Republicans who want to keep voter lists pure, and Democrats who avoid it, possibly because to the extent that it allows people to vote improperly, they’re more likely to be Republicans.Just curious — do you live in a Republican or Democratic state/county?

  24. Jeff says:

    mclever wrote:I’m confused as to when the time taken to vote would ever be paid.How do you manage to get PAID time to vote, Jeff??So far, I’ve voted in NY, MA, SC, IL, and CA. I believe the law in each of those states requires employers to give time off to vote. I do know that in California, it’s part of the legally required “Poster Set” that every employer is required to put in a place where all employees can see their rights (16 separate poster requirements which change at least once a year, often more frequently. Heavy fines if you are not up to date).

  25. mclever says:

    Jeff, I’ve lived, worked, and voted in both CA and IL. Sure, I got “time off” to vote, but it was never paid time off. Hourly employees only get paid for hours actually working.

  26. Realist says:

    @Jeff,My conspiratorial side has also noticed that it tends to be Republicans who want to keep voter lists pure, and Democrats who avoid it, possibly because to the extent that it allows people to vote improperly, they’re more likely to be Republicans.My conspiratorial side has also noticed that it tends to be Republicans who want to keep voter lists small, and Democrats who avoid it, possibly because to the extent that it allows targeting of poor, minority, and heavily Democratic districts, elections are more likely to go Republican.Watch what Dino Rossi’s group did in 2004. It was all about going after King County, with nary a peep about possible voting impropriety in eastern Washington, or even Thurston County. Why would that be?I’ll give you a hint, since you probably are unfamiliar with Washington State. King County has liberal Seattle. Thurston County, while heavily populated, is also much more conservative. So is eastern Washington.

  27. Jeff says:

    Realist wrote:@Jeff,My conspiratorial side has also noticed that it tends to be Republicans who want to keep voter lists pure, and Democrats who avoid it, possibly because to the extent that it allows people to vote improperly, they’re more likely to be Republicans.My conspiratorial side has also noticed that it tends to be Republicans who want to keep voter lists small, and Democrats who avoid it, possibly because to the extent that it allows targeting of poor, minority, and heavily Democratic districts, elections are more likely to go Republican.===============I agree that Republicans are more likely to object to improper voting in heavily minority districts — doesn’t help them to have that happen. (Shades of Acorn)As I commented I think improper mail voting is more likely in area where there is a lot of people who move around. which is fairly typical of low income areas where people rent.The obvious objection is that it dilutes the vote of legitimate voters.

  28. Realist says:

    @Jeff,The obvious objection is that it dilutes the vote of legitimate voters.The obvious objection is that it dilutes the vote of Republican voters.You’d think that, with all of the sound and fury about voter fraud, there would be at least one instance of true vote fraud proven in these investigations. And yet…

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