It's a no-brainer is an overused phrase. But it sure fits when it comes to vote by mail.
In 1998, Oregon, where I live, became the first state in the country to conduct all elections by mailed ballots. Since, Washington and Colorado have followed suit.
(Coincidentally, or maybe not, along with Alaska these three states also are the only ones to legalize recreational marijuana. So not only can residents of Oregon, Washington, and Colorado vote in the privacy of their own homes, we can also do so while smoking pot. Sweet!)
Having moved to Oregon in 1971, I've experienced both ways of voting: (1) going to a polling place on election day, standing in line, and voting in a cubicle; and (2) getting a ballot in the mail several weeks before election day, filling it out whenever I want, and mailing it in.
Believe me, voting by mail is way better. Us Oregonians can't understand why the whole country doesn't do it. There are no real drawbacks and plenty of positives.
I've never encountered anyone in this state who longs for the old way of voting.
Sure, voting by mail costs you a first class stamp. But lots of people drop off their ballots at a collection box. Many like to do this on election day. Me, I fill out my ballot and mail it in as soon as possible. This gets me off the list of people who receive phone calls from candidate campaigns asking, "Have you voted yet?"
Here's a report from the Marion County Elections Office showing ballot return rates in the recent May 17 primary election. (Marion County is where Salem, Oregon's capital, is located.)
Download 5-17-16 Ballot Return Rate
Thirty-four percent came in gradually during the two weeks prior to election day; fifteen percent came in on May 17, election day. Most of the day-of-election ballots were dropped off, since there's plenty of warnings not to mail your ballot even a week before election day, because of the risk of the USPS not delivering it in time.
(In Oregon, all ballots have to be received by 8 pm on election day. In Washington state, they have to be postmarked by election day.)
Just about the only halfway reasonable supposed drawback to vote by mail that I've heard is the ability to cast your ballot several weeks ahead of election day. Some people argue that this prevents early voters from considering late-breaking information about a candidate.
Well, I've never had regrets about who I voted for two weeks before election day. And many states have some form of early voting, including the ability to cast an absentee ballot. So this seems like a very weak argument against vote by mail.
Phil Keisling was Oregon's Secretary of State from 1991-98. His recent piece in Washington Monthly, "Vote From Home, Save Your Country," discusses the excellent reasons to have vote by mail everywhere. Higher voter turnout is one of them.
In 2014, Oregon’s active voter turnout rate was 70.9 percent—23 percentage points higher than the national average—despite having no hotly contested top races. Colorado, which had both a close Senate and governor’s race, logged a 71.9 percent ARV rate in its debut UVBM election. Washington State had no U.S. Senate or governor’s race in 2014, but its 54 percent ARV turnout still handily beat the national average. (In 2010, thirty-eight of Washington’s thirty-nine counties used all mail ballots, and its 71.2 percent rate that year was second only to Oregon’s.)
Voter fraud is virtually non-existent in Oregon, just 13 cases since 2000. That's less than one a year.
My ballot has my name and address on it. I sign the envelope that the ballot is returned in. My signature has to match the one that is on file with the elections office. When my ballot is received, I get an email telling me this:
Hello Brian Hines,
Welcome to Marion County Clerk - Elections Track Your Ballot.
Your ballot for the November 2015 Election has been accepted and is being processed for counting. Thank you for voting! If you have any questions call 503-588-5041.
Visit http://www.co.marion.or.us/co/elections for more election information.
Marion County Clerk
So get with it, you 47 states other than Oregon, Washington, and Colorado that don't let citizens vote by mail. The only reason not to do this is to suppress voter turnout. Which appears to be why Republican/Red states are reluctant to have vote by mail.
Ooh, scary! Lots of people voting! Democracy!
Well, be even more afraid of Oregon, because we also have automatic voter registration when people register with the Department of Motor Vehicles ("motor voter" law). Since January, more than 50,000 new voters have been registered in Oregon this way.
And then they can vote by mail. Making it easy to vote... works here in Oregon. The rest of the country should give it a try.