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.
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