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Vote by mail: More voters, less cost!

By Staff | May 1, 2020

In the last two dozen years, several states have adopted vote-by-mail (VBM). Two states, Oregon and Washington, vote only by mail. In others it’s optional for each county.

For many years I opposed VBM. I even refuse to vote early, unless I’m going to be out of town on election day. I like the idea of going to my precinct on election day.

But I’ve become a believer in VBM. In this past session of the Legislature I co-sponsored a bill to let counties have the option of using VBM.

Generally, VBM works like this. Every registered voter is sent a ballot, with instructions as to how it is to be filled out and returned. Each county will have several ballot return locations at various points. They’re similar to U.S. Postal Service maildrops, but they’re locked when there is no imminent election. There are ways to guarantee the legitimacy and the security of the ballots.

Sadly, this idea has become enmeshed in partisan politics. Some Republicans oppose VBM because they think it will elect more Democrats. And some Democrats favor VBM because they agree!

But serious studies by respected researchers indicate VBM doesn’t appreciably benefit either party. VBM does seem to have marginally increased turnout in those states that have adopted it.

Recent polling has shown overwhelming support for VBM all over the country. Republicans, Democrats, Independents and members of smaller parties all strongly favor it, in each of those cases by margins of at least three-to-one.

One of the reasons VBM is so heavily favored is its convenience to the voter. You get your ballot in the mail in plenty of time, and you can drop it off at a dropbox when you’re ready and near one. Anyone who needs assistance filling out the ballot can arrange for that assistance from the county clerk’s office.

Another reason VBM has become popular is that it saves counties money. There is no more in-person voting on election day, thus no more need for precinct workers. The county clerk’s permanent staff can handle everything. I’m told that a countywide election in Jefferson County costs about $100,000.

Charges that VBM makes it easy to “cheat” have been proven unfounded. However, one valid objection to VBM is the potential it creates for individuals to collect ballots from voters with the pledge to take them to a dropbox. This is called “ballot harvesting.” Some political organizations have used unpaid volunteers or paid workers to collect ballots from neighborhoods thought to have strong support for the opposition and then intentionally failed to turn in those ballots.

Colorado has, in my view, addressed this by prohibiting any person from collecting more than 10 ballots. This number appears to be so small that no political party or candidate has any incentive to “harvest” ballots in that state.

West Virginia has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. Let’s put county-option VBM in place by the November election.