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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Time Has Come for National Vote-by-Mail

Posted by on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 4:51 PM

In his victory speech last night, President Barack Obama made a point of calling out the inexcusable mess that is election day throughout much of the nation:

“I want to thank every American who participated in this election … whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that.

Whether it was due to incompetence or bad weather or intentional voter suppression, millions of Americans were forced to wait for hours to exercise their right to vote, and/or jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops in an effort to claim that right. That it is mostly Republicans who are pushing through legislation to require voter ID or to eliminate early voting or to purge the voter rolls of foreign sounding names is evidence enough that one party is seeking to disenfranchise voters for partisan gain. And as President Obama said last night, we have to fix that.

And the easiest fix would by national vote-by-mail.

If Congress required every state to offer a vote-by-mail option to all registered voters who request it, it would go a long way toward eliminating the long lines at polling places we see every election day, by eliminating Republicans' ability to create these lines in the first place. No citizen could be denied the right to vote for lack of a drivers license, or be forced to miss a half day of work due to an understaffed polling place.

Here in Washington and Oregon, there are no lines on election day other than the lines at the bars at the election night parties. If we could drink-by-mail, we could fix that problem too.

As I explained in an early post, vote-by-mail is an efficient, secure process that guarantees a paper trail and eliminates most voter suppression tactics. It's not perfect. If the entire nation was all vote-by-mail, it might be days before we were certain who won yesterday's election. But the inherent delay in counting vote-by-mail ballots is a small price to pay for a free and fair election.

 

Comments (30) RSS

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hillpagan 1
In vote by mail a voter can be bribed or forced to vote against her wishes. Only a secret ballot is acceptable.
Posted by hillpagan on November 7, 2012 at 4:57 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 2
I need more stamps
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on November 7, 2012 at 5:00 PM · Report this
pfffter 3
Also, vote by mail is awesome for targeting voters who have not yet voted. It's a crucial tool in getting out the vote. Campaigns know when you've voted (so they don't bug you anymore) and can focus their resources where they are needed.
Posted by pfffter on November 7, 2012 at 5:03 PM · Report this
Goldy 4
@1 The logistics of bribing enough voters to sell their ballot to impact an election, and the penalty of getting caught doesn't make it a likely occurrence. We've had mail-in (absentee) ballots for decades; there's no evidence of this being a widespread problem.
Posted by Goldy on November 7, 2012 at 5:07 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 5
Sounds good to me.

Why do we have dozens of county-level ballot counting locations? Seems once you go all-mail it's easy to pool your resources and count at a central location. The IRS seems to handle tax forms pretty well.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on November 7, 2012 at 5:10 PM · Report this
emma's bee 6
Ohio has had vote-by-mail for several election cycles, in addition to in-person early voting and day-of-election voting. Our system works well enough that fewer and fewer voters vote in-person on the day of election. But this has resulted in precinct consolidation, which leads to greater confusion and voter misdirection. Ohio doesn't have a vote-tracking system for mail voters like WA does, which leads to some anxiety and mistrust. I'm sure the nation could learn from WA's example on how to do all-mail voting right.
Posted by emma's bee on November 7, 2012 at 5:15 PM · Report this
seandr 7
I voted by email this year.
Posted by seandr on November 7, 2012 at 5:22 PM · Report this
8
I am concerned by vote-by-mail (I moved away from WA before it was implemented, so my experience is limited), on a couple of levels:

1) ballot secrecy, especially given the rumors about peer-pressure "voting parties" where people allegedly voted in public supervised by their pastors and fellow parishioners.

2) provision for the transient and homeless, who might retain ties to their registered voting address but not receive mail effectively.

I'm willing to be convinced, and vote-by-mail does solve issues of long lines and of voter-auditable permanent ballots. But both of those issues can also be addressed with better adoption of current voting technologies (ie scantron rather than digital-direct-recording) and better resources (more and better locations for early and on-election-day voting).
Posted by Warren Terra on November 7, 2012 at 5:51 PM · Report this
9
Here in Washington and Oregon, there are no lines on election day
Unfortunately, not true! The Multnomah County Elections Office here in Portland had lines wrapping around the block for people who needed to fill out a ballot in person. (Homeless, didn't get a ballot, etc.) On the other hand, they've had the opportunity to do that since the ballots were first mailed, so the inconvenience pales in comparison to other states.
Posted by daisy on November 7, 2012 at 6:00 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 10
Rather than dictating that the states implement this, I'd rather see a separate, uniform, federal ballot (for President, House, and Senate races) that is distributed and collected via the mail by the federal government itself.

These are national positions, not state positions. We don't have the states collecting and assessing federal taxes; why have them collecting and assessing votes for national candidates?
Posted by Free Lunch on November 7, 2012 at 6:38 PM · Report this
11
@8 If I remember correctly, the state makes sure that there are in-person voting stations as well as vote-by-mail for all those folks who lead a more... mobile lifestyle. I also seem to remember that if you're having any difficulty whatsoever voting that you can call the elections commission and they'll bend over backward to make sure your vote gets counted. You guys can correct me if I'm wrong about those things, but it's my opinion that it's the level of service that WA state backs up the vote by mail with that makes it work.

@Goldy - I like the idea of a federally mandated vote-by-mail system, but I'm not so sure such a law would be constitutional. That'd be one hell of a stretch of the commerce clause. But maybe it could rely on the 14th's equality clause? (I'm a planner, not a lawyer, so anyone who is a lawyer feel free to step in here.)
Posted by Zelbinian on November 7, 2012 at 6:42 PM · Report this
Cordwainer 12
One problem vote-by-mail solves immediately is there is always going to be a hard document that has your vote recorded on it. It can't be "accidentally deleted" from the memory card of an electronic voting machine, or re-programmed to say something different to the tabulators than it says on the paper.

Sure it can be forged or altered, but that's going to involve labor and a human being to do it, and that doesn't scale up real well. Neither does having roving gangs forcing people to fill out their ballots a certain way. That kind of thing tends to make the news, and ballot fraud works best when it can be done quietly...
Posted by Cordwainer on November 7, 2012 at 6:43 PM · Report this
Rhett Oracle 13
My family lives in Kettering, Ohio (where Romney sent out for $5000 worth of Walmartzhit to be dispatched to the Jersey Shore for a smarmy photo-inopportunity). They cannot understand why, in this country of supreme technological advances, (as the ease with which you purchase a book from Amazon), why you simply cannot vote @ home on your computer and be the fuck finished with it? Or mail in your ballots as we do in WA and OR.

We are no longer the agrarian society of 1800 where Tuesday was drive-your-wagon-to-town day to purchase hardtack, hemp and victuals and to barter your lard for a skillet or a snood. Why does anyone still have to stand in line for hours to vote on exactly the same day of the year? On machines that may or may not work? Invented by men that may or may not intend for them to work?

Plus all ballots should be received by election day (with exemptions for military and other citizens abroad). Streamline this voting mess on a national level and get rid of ludicrously quaint states' rights provisions and laws that tend to discourage ordinary citizens from voting at all. And finally strip the Electoral College of its accreditation making every vote count in a national election.

End of faerie queen's rant.

Posted by Rhett Oracle on November 7, 2012 at 6:54 PM · Report this
14

Android app.

With voice recognition and fingerprint ID.

Anyone?
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on November 7, 2012 at 7:03 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 15
Republicans will never allow it.

Well, they'd allow it in districts ruled by old, wealthy, heterosexual, white men. But they'd fight against it everywhere else.

Republicans can't win unless they can lie, cheat, and steal their way in. Making it easier to vote only hurts them. One of their primary goals is to make it harder to vote, not easier.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on November 7, 2012 at 7:16 PM · Report this
16
The mail in vote only works as long as the post office remains solvent. And they can't manage to keep up with the demand of Christmas cards, can they really be relied upon to handle the burden of a national vote every year?

I am not in favor of the mail in vote because I would never remember to mail in my ballot. And I would want it to be postage paid. And that creates a huge federal expense--to mail out ballots to every registered voter, then foot the bill to have them mailed back in. And what about those with no permanent address. No, mail in voting presents a greater opportunity to disenfranchise a segment of potential voters than requiring ID.

Posted by catballou on November 7, 2012 at 7:19 PM · Report this
17
#15

Did they do that in the suburbs...where R won?

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on November 7, 2012 at 7:36 PM · Report this
Knat 18
@17: Oh, is Romney going to be President of Rural America starting in January? I wasn't aware that office had been created.
Posted by Knat on November 7, 2012 at 7:44 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 19
Catballou, dear, the post office is solvent. The only real problem it has is the asinine Republican requirement that they fund their pension plan for the next seventy-five years - something no business in the private sector would, or could, do.

Personally, I think the mail-in ballot is an excellent idea. I also think that people should be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18, using the Social Security system.

As far as technology goes, as I said on another post, government is very poor at keeping technology up-to-date, due to erratic budgets and deferred maintenance. But government is wonderful at stuff like records retention, so keep everything on paper, and archive it for twenty years.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay http://www.danlangdon.com on November 7, 2012 at 8:32 PM · Report this
20
I was skeptical about mail-in voting, but having done it here in WA for several years now, I'm a fan. We vote, we mail it in, we're able to track where it went. There are polling places for folks who are homeless but want a voice.

And on a federal level, if the IRS can collect taxes, a federal election branch would work well. It can be staffed by whoever is in charge of tracking down alumni -- swear to every god there is, they can find you anywhere!

Seriously, though, what would it take to mandate that electioneering cannot be done more than six months before the last day for voting? All campaigning to be confined to a six-month (or better yet, four month) period? I'd vote for that!
Posted by FranFW on November 7, 2012 at 8:44 PM · Report this
21
I came home last Wednesday to find my 15 year old filling my ballot out. I discussed his choices, then threw it away. I emailed my new ballot in. He didn't think it was fair. I replied to him "denying me my right to vote isn't fair." Thank goodness for signature verification.
Although, I must say the stamp is an issue. They should be "no postage necessary if mailed in the United States". If you only want one stamp, then you must wait in one hell of a long line at the post office. Granted that line isn't 7 hours long. I still have half a booklet of stamps that I bought 5 years ago. Purchasing an entire book just to mail your ballot is BS. If funding is an issue, ad a $2 fee to the tax forms right after the donation for elections.
Posted by pussnboots on November 7, 2012 at 9:27 PM · Report this
Rhett Oracle 22
Probably (@21), almost every older woman you know has at least one US postage stamp buried in her change purse. Ask her for it - give her 50 cents. Jesus Juarez Christ - you can't vote because you don't have a stamp to put on your ballot envelope? Lourdes is calling you where you may find a cure for such audacious lameness. Or you're kidding, right?
Posted by Rhett Oracle on November 7, 2012 at 9:58 PM · Report this
23
@#21
Here in California, and back when I lived in Seattle also there, major drugstore chains sell books of stamps at the cash register (in Seattle, try Bartell's). They're not delighted about it (I think there are regulations about profiting from the sale that make it a service they provide rather than a revenue stream), and they don't advertise it, but give it a try. Much more convenient than going to the post office when it's open.
Posted by Warren Terra on November 7, 2012 at 10:15 PM · Report this
24
@23 and @21 -- You can buy stamps at major grocery chains, also. And mail-in ballots are wonderful things. I've been voting by mail in California for years.

As far as the argument about having to take time off work, in California at least it's a labor law requirement that employers must allow employees to take time off to vote on election day with no penalty. I used to go on my way to work, get to work an hour or so late if the line was long or there were a lot of items to be voted on. Does Washington not provide that sort of accommodation for workers? (When I lived in your beautiful state, I was self-employed and simply went to my polling place, but that was a few years ago.)
Posted by Calpete on November 7, 2012 at 10:57 PM · Report this
wilbur@work 25
what 22 said. not being willing to dig 50 cents out of your couch or ask your neighbor for a stamp is fucking pathetic. I guess we know who's in that 14% of non-turnout.
Posted by wilbur@work on November 7, 2012 at 10:59 PM · Report this
hillpagan 26
In my area every few years a local race is decided by coin toss. If one woman is intimidated by her abusive husband into voting against her wishes, her right to vote is lost. I don't agree that this is inconsequential (or measurable.) Secret ballots exist for very good reasons.
Posted by hillpagan on November 7, 2012 at 11:17 PM · Report this
27
And I suppose every older man has a faded condom in his wallet? As an older women, I don't even carry a purse.
I am not talking about me, nor you. I am talking about the seniors that have to go to the food bank once a week just to have enough to eat. When you only have $365 a month to live on, $.50 is a big deal. Not everyone can afford to buy a whole booklet of stamps at once either, no matter how convenient. You remember, all those voters the republicans tried to keep away from the ballot box?
Posted by pussnboots on November 8, 2012 at 5:14 AM · Report this
28
So, you want to trust ballots to be handed out when you have no idea how they will be filled out or by whom and then hand them over without a decent paper trail to people like those that run elections in shitholes like Florida and Ohio . . . and you see this as a good thing? No thanks
Posted by frankdawg on November 8, 2012 at 7:20 AM · Report this
29
My great-grandfather was a rock-ribbed, Roosevelt-hating Republican.  Years after the fact, my great-grandmother revealed that she voted for Kennedy in 1960.  Would she have done that without a secret ballot?  Maybe. She was a pretty tough lady and I have no reason to think my great-grandfather was the sorted of husband who would have insisted on seeing her mail-in ballot -- or even just questioned why she did not want them to fill out their ballots together at the dining room table.  However, we all know that some men would have done that and some women would have voted for Nixon without a secret ballot.

Actually bribery probably is rare.  However, are you really happy knowing that Washington possibly could have lost on gay marriage if *more* young, progressive voters (and you know there had to have been some) had been deterred by their conservative parents from voting their true beliefs?

Long lines are a problem that needs to be addressed but I just cannot think of a better way to protect the secret ballot than having people vote in a private booth under the observation of the election judges and the community to protect that voter's right to secrecy.

Posted by JL9 on November 8, 2012 at 8:05 AM · Report this
gttim 30
@1 The secret ballot is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. It must be maintained at all costs. Better we just go to weekend voting, but in person voting where you are allowed to vote by yourself and not be intimidated by anyone.
Posted by gttim on November 8, 2012 at 9:43 AM · Report this

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