Friday, November 10, 2006

Vote By Mail: Oregon's Lead Getting a National Look

Once again, Oregon voters enjoyed one of the smoothest electoral processes and participated at some of the higest rates in the nation. Whether these truths are bolstered by the vote by mail process or there are other factors, it's hard to argue with success. (Washington is probably the closest state to Oregon; more absentees arrive than poll votes, but we're seeing their main flaw there this week--allowing postmarked Election Day ballots forces a delay in counting that relies on the mails.)

One of the more prominent advocates outside Oregon has become Markos Moulitsas, of the Daily Kos. His support has triggered a broad discussion of the concept, which can only be a good thing. So many things that can be manipulated by poll voting are not possible with VBM. So many problems with the lack of a paper trail are solved by all-paper ballots. Let's have that discussion! Here, Senator Ron Wyden will get people started with 15 ways VBM is the right strategy for the rest of America:
1. In Denver, CO hundreds of voters were turned away when the database of registered voters crashed, with Vote by Mail voters have as many as three weeks to cast their vote and contact voting officials with questions and concerns.

2. In Shaker Heights, OH, voters were turned from the polls when electronic voting machines failed to work, Vote by Mail eliminates polling problems by eliminating the need for polls.

3. Nearly a quarter of precincts in Indianapolis resorted to paper ballots when poll workers couldn't figure out how to connect optical scan voting machines with the new touch-screen models, Vote by Mail eliminates problems created when poll workers are unfamiliar with voting machine technology. In addition, Vote by Mail can generate a huge cost savings, Oregon has reduced election-related costs by 30 percent

4. In Gwinnet, County, GA, a poll worker unlawfully refused to allow a Hispanic woman to vote without ID, Because Vote by Mail is typically overseen at the county level, in coordination with the Secretary of State, it helps ensure that every voter is treated the same under the law regardless of race, creed or ethnicity.

5. In Kane County, IL, poll workers, unfamiliar with the new electronic voting machines, were unable to open polls on time, Vote by Mail makes voting convenient for hourly workers and others whose schedules make it difficult to wait in line to vote.

6. In Johnson County, Kansas poll workers used hand lotion to prevent the county's touch-screen voting machines from spitting out cards, With Vote by Mail, malfunctioning technology won't disrupt Election Day.

7. In Clermont Country, OH, Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt struggled with an optical scan voting machine that repeatedly rejected her ballot, With Vote by Mail, voters no longer have to struggle with unreliable voting machine technology .

8. In Missouri, poll workers were demanding photo identification despite a court ruling barring the practice, Because Vote by Mail eliminates the need for polling places, it helps ensure the uniform application of voting laws.

9. Voters in Washington State received phone calls instructing them to vote at the wrong precinct, Vote by male eliminates confusion by sending ballots directly to voters, which are then either dropped in the mailbox or delivered to secure drop boxes at libraries, county offices and other convenient locations.

10. In Virginia, the FBI is investigating reports of voter intimidation, A 2003 study of Oregon voters showed that groups who are most vulnerable to coercion, like the elderly. prefer Vote by Mail.

11. In Tuscon, Arizona, armed vigilantes were reportedly stopping and questioning Hispanic voters,Vote by Mail allows voters to cast their ballot in the privacy of their homes without fear of intimidation.

12. In Pittsburgh, PA, a registered voter was refused a provisional ballot after being told that her change of address had not been properly processed, With Vote by Mail, if a voter does not receive a ballot, they have three weeks, rather than one day, to correct the situation with voting officials.

13. In Allegheny County, PA, malfunctioning machines and an inadequate number of provisional ballots generated long lines causing many voters to leave without casting a vote, Vote by Mail bumps every voter to the front of the line, guarantees that voters can cast their votes and gives them confidence that their votes will be counted.

14. In Colorado, voters with Hispanic last names are reported to have received phone calls threatening arrest if they attempted to vote, Vote by Mail allows eligible voters to cast ballots in the privacy of their own homes helping to ensure that no one is unfairly disenfranchised.

15. A polling location in New Mexico was forced to turn voters away after having received 150 ballots instead of 1,500, Under Vote by Mail every registered voter gets their ballot.

For more information or to contact Senator Wyden, visit
Update, 11/11 7pm--
I listed in comments some of the other stories on Oregon's system, but here's another one--last week's British Economist. It's behind the firewall, but I have a subscription and I'll share the relevant part with you. See if you recognize the semi-famous local Portland name! (Hint--he moderated the 46/47 debate at City Club last week).
Advocates say that early voting is convenient and encourages turnout. But the trend has made life more complicated for some. Pity the political strategists. “If you're going to release a last-minute scurrilous charge, you have to do it earlier,” says Paul Gronke of Oregon's Reed College. As to whether it boosts participation, opinion is divided. In most states people have to go out of their way to request an absentee ballot. “Those people would have voted anyway,” says Curtis Gans of American University. If anything, he argues, “convenience voting”, as it is often called, depresses turnout by diffusing efforts to mobilise voters.

The trend in voting early will probably continue. Many Americans have become understandably reluctant to take their chances on election day. After technical glitches made a hash of Maryland's primary election in September, Governor Bob Ehrlich called for state voters to request absentee ballots.

Whether or not early voting affects the results, it is changing the way Americans think about elections. Mr Fortier thinks that extended voting detracts from the public benefits of a single election day. Mr Gronke, going further, would like to make election day a national holiday. “Voting is a civic ritual,” he says. “We need to make it more important, not less.”