Sunday Election Issues - 14 September 2008
Dialing For Doctors

Vote By Mail

category_bug_politics.gif Only last week, I discovered I can Vote By Mail (VBM) in Maine. It’s not called that here, but anyone for any reason can vote by “absentee ballot.” I was able to request one online and the ballots will be mailed out later this month. Other Mainers reading this can find out more here, although not all municipalities participate.

I’ve known about the idea of Vote By Mail because it has been in effect for several years in Oregon where my brother lives, and I was surprised to discover in reading some research he sent me, that 28 states have full Vote By Mail programs or, like Maine, are experimenting with it. You can find out where your state stands on this issue at votebymailproject.org.

Some people and organizations object to Vote By Mail on grounds of the possibility of fraud:

“Opponents maintain that nefarious interests could make a concerted effort to collect or steal ballots and send them in with forged signatures...Oregon officials defend the system by pointing to a case where one activist attempted to send in forged ballots to discredit the process. The individual was promptly apprehended and convicted...

“Another concern voiced by opponents is that mail balloting could result in the compromise of the sacred American tradition of the secret ballot. They envision situations where a spouse might pressure a partner to vote a specific way. Or individuals might be asked to bring their ballots to a meeting and mark them according to the will of the group.

“One study in Oregon surveyed more than a thousand voters and asked if anyone had been coerced to vote a certain way. The study identified only one voter who responded that he had been forced to vote for a specific candidate.

“Another often cited disadvantage of vote-by-mail is that it could preclude voters from knowing all the facts about candidates if events unfold close to Election Day or new information comes to light just before the election.

“And some have argued that requiring voters to pay for postage to return the ballots is the equivalent of a poll tax. One group unsuccessfully sued Oregon over the postage issue in federal court - an appeal is pending.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures

These, I think, are valid arguments, but only to a point. Oregon’s experience has been that many more people vote than before the state instituted Vote By Mail, and in places like Maine in the northern tier of the U.S., there is no telling what the weather might be on election day. We could easily have a foot or more of new snow, keeping many people at home.

And for elders, some of whom cannot easily get to their polling station, this is a terrific solution.

In addition, an enormous amount of state and municipal money is saved when the number of voting machines to be purchased and maintained is reduced or eliminated. Plus, I have a lot more faith in paper ballots that are themselves the paper trail than in electronic voting. Google "voting machines" and you'll get thousands of stories of miscounts, malfunctions, failed inspections, broken machines and lost memory cards.

I had no idea until last week that Maine allows Vote By Mail and perhaps you don't know about it in your state. You can check the list here. And of course, if you are not registered to vote yet, now is the time to do that. This presidential election will determine the future direction of our country for years to come - not only our current crises on everyone's mind, but new Supreme Court appointments.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones recalls the pleasure of forbidden activities in Taking a Dip in the Hotel Pool.]

Comments

We've been voting by mail here in California for many years (20+) as absentee voters. I have a paper ballot and all my information needed for a wise choice, sitting right there on the kitchen table. Works for us!

And if I remember correctly, some parts of the country allow for multi-day voting. I think Johnson County in Kansas allows you a week to go to the polls.

My opinion on voter fraud is that it will happen (has happened...think Secretary of State) at a much higher level than the precinct.

As a part of our voter registration efforts here in New Mexico, we registrars carry Vote By Mail applications with us at all times. I have been getting nearly three times the number of VBMs as registrations in recent weeks.

Just this last week, Hunky Husband and I received mailings from our county treasurer, with stamp-required return cards to request mail ballots. I'm not apt to use a mail-in ballot; but, while living in Albuquerque for seven years, I always had to use an absentee ballot (I was always "on travel"), which meant that I went downtown to make out a paper ballot. Eventually, we'll all vote electronically from home (probably via our implanted chips!)

As far as convenience goes, this is the way people should be going that can not stand in lines for a long time. Didn't you link to a video that showed how some voting districts had to wait for hours to vote?

Secondly, there are some specialists who say that early voting and online voting might sway the last minute voters.

And, one note as far as Oregon, the argument about postage is garbage. Because the "vote by mail" ballots can be, until 8 pm election day, turned in at any valid drop box - and almost every community has one, usually at the library or at City Hall. No postage required, and no more onerous than getting to the polling place in a traditional setup (actually, better, because you can do it any day - not just election day). Mailing it in (and I don't remember if it does cost a stamp - if it's not postage-paid-by-addressee it should be - but to be honest I just drop mine off at the library so I didn't pay much attention) is not the only way to deliver it.

I _love_ our system.

I'm a vote-by-mail skeptic, not that it does me or anyone else any good. I do think remote (convenience) voting will be our future.

But it may surprise people to know that the highest turnout in American history was in the late 1800s in cities when political parties pretty much turned Election Day into a civic participation festival with parades, picnics and sometimes more than a little celebratory drinking. This created a collective sense that elections celebrated our nation, our citizenship.

When we vote by mail, we vote alone, as isolated individuals. This is very different and not altogether good for us I fear when engaging in collective decision making.

That said, I know we like it. And I have voted by mail myself for years -- because I am always doing something on Election Day: making calls, turning out voters, watching the polls. That kind of activity gives you a sense of our collective citizenship that I heartily recommend to all.

Living in Oregon, I didn't vote for the vote by mail when it was on our ballot. I liked going down to the local school house and seeing the ladies that ran the voting. It was kind of a nice social time and the only time I'd see some neighbors; but I definitely am a fan of it now. Seeing how many more people vote made me see its value.

My mother voted absentee for years before it came into being for the rest of us. She was legally blind due to macular degeneration. She could see with a magnifying glass and by taking enough time which made it a lot easier in the privacy of her own home.

Here in Oregon, some coastal communities were in the midst of contending with a major flood on on a recent election day, but vote by mail saved the day. There are no long lines, which can seriously limit some elderly people's ability to vote and shut out people who can not get off work to wait for hours. The system also makes it harder for those Republicans who are currently using under-handed techniques to disenfranchise voters in Democratic districts. Fight back against stolen elections!

Georgia has both vote-by-mail and early voting about a week before the November date. Both are good ways for people who can't stand in line a long time (like me) to vote.

I find the specter of broken and invalid voting machines much more troubling than the possibility of vote-by-mail fraud. As Ronni said, the new electronic machines have been fraught with troubles, and offer the opportunity for fraud on a much larger scale.

Thanks for the info. We can vote by mail here in Washington and it is so much better than having to fight the lines at the voting booths, not to mention the machines themselves. We surely don't need anymore voting fraud than we've had in the past.

I have worked at our local polling place for years as the Minority Inspector. Minority meaning Democrat. I clarify that because the Majority Clerk is a Black friend of mine who is a Republican.Every Election Day when we put on our respective badges we have a great laugh.

In Pennsylvania you must apply in advance for an absentee ballot and there is no other form of Mail-in voting allowed. I like that because, as Rain said, voting in our little Community Center almost becomes a social event and you get to see all of the neighbors and find out who got married and who is on the Dean's List and who had a new baby.

None of that would be possible if we did write in or any other kind of voting except "In person". BUT, after seeing a 20/20 expose on how a certain Voting Machine Company who supplies thousands of machines to polls all over the country "Pre Programmed" thousands of votes on their machines before delivering them, I am beginning to wonder if "Write in from Home" voting might not be the answer to honest elections.

I think the government should hire someone from American Idol or Dancing With The Stars and find out how they keep it all straight and permit a person to vote only once....

I voted absentee several times when were away from Wisconsin. It was a hassle because I had to request a ballot every time.
In our new state of Residence Pima County has sent us a form to request to be put on the permanent list to have our ballot mailed to us. This is so much more convenient. I can mail it in or drop it off at any polling place.
I think it is a good idea to make voting easy for people.

I've used vote by mail in New Mexico when I wouldn't be home to go to the polls. But if I'm home, I like to go to the polling place in person. New Mexico's method of counting ballots is so unsatisfactory that absentee ballots don't get counted until days or weeks after the election is over. I want my vote counted early.

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