Vote by mail?
November 4, 2008 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Reasons the United States does not vote by mail in elections?

(Other than Oregon and states that offer "any reason" vote by mail absentee voting.)

Can someone provide information and/or links as to why vote by mail isn't adopted in all U.S. elections? Would you be for or against voting by mail? How well does it work (or not work) where it is offered?
posted by jca to Law & Government (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Homeless people don't have addresses.
posted by General Malaise at 10:02 AM on November 4, 2008


I would think it'd be cheaper to have everyone show up at their polling place than to send out all the ballots and then have them all sent back. I would also think the risk of fraud would be greater if everyone voted by mail.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:03 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, vote mechanics is a state by state issue (which is great for those who want to make it complicated) so you're really asking why 48 (?) states don't have vote by mail, and I imagine the official and unofficial reasons vary from state to state.

I don't see how it would be less susceptible to fraud than the more popular systems. As a plus, It might give the dying Post Office something to do. But there would be just as much worry about "where did my vote go?" once it enters the mailbox and is vanished forever.
posted by rokusan at 10:07 AM on November 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


Republicans generally oppose efforts to make voting easier, because Republican voters (the affluent, the elderly, the churchgoing) will vote without the extra help. It's the same reason they oppose motor-voter laws, mass registration efforts, etc. Why make it easier for young people and poor people to vote if they're not going to vote Republican?
posted by Knappster at 10:12 AM on November 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm sure the U.S. mail works great in most places, but in some, it doesn't. I live in a city where things don't always work, and in a few years have received a ton of mail for various neighbors and have had paychecks and gifts go missing. No way would I want the postal system handling my vote.
posted by Airhen at 10:13 AM on November 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


For many people, absentee voting [which you can often do even if you're going to be in town] is voting by mail. All states do voting differently, I think one of the big arguments is -- besides the obvious "people in power don't want to make it easier for people to vote" -- adding another variable into what is already a contentious and problematic-to-verify-plus-very-very-important civic activity.
posted by jessamyn at 10:13 AM on November 4, 2008


Homeless people don't have addresses.

Which keeps them from traditional voting now (via voter ID laws), no?
posted by jca at 10:13 AM on November 4, 2008


Its time hasn't come, that's all. Until now. While the Electoral College will be with us for many years, I would expect that Congress will have a good look at introducing some uniformity including, possibly, weekend-long voting at the polls rather than Tuesday only, uniform no-fault vote-by-mail, standards for internet voting, uniform registration deadlines and absentee voting dates, etc.

See this review of the Oregon vote-by-mail system, done 5 years after it launched. Turnout is up, the overall cost is less, and there have been no significant abuses.
posted by beagle at 10:13 AM on November 4, 2008


Here's another Oregon study (pdf), from 2005.
posted by Knappster at 10:18 AM on November 4, 2008


And if you fear the postal system, you can always drop off your ballot in drop-off locations all over the place.
posted by amanda at 10:19 AM on November 4, 2008


Aren't there Constitutional issues with forcibly amending various states' authority on running elections the way they see fit?
posted by rokusan at 10:21 AM on November 4, 2008


No way would I want the postal system handling my vote.

Bingo. I don't want any extra third-parties between my vote being cast and my vote being counted.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:24 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Homeless people don't have addresses.
Which keeps them from traditional voting now (via voter ID laws), no?


No. At least not in theory. It's one thing to be able to cite an address of a homeless shelter for the purpose of filling out a voter registration form. Whether one is able to receive mail at that same address is a different question.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:25 AM on November 4, 2008


It may be more efficient, but a lot of people *like* going to the polls to cast their vote. Voting by mail is pretty anti-climactic.
posted by electroboy at 10:30 AM on November 4, 2008


People want a truly secret ballot.
If I vote by mail my name and signature need to be on the outside envelope for it to be counted.

Granted they say it's still secret, but the chance is too great it will be abused.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:31 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good history of voting methods. It's good to see how we got to where we are, because in the past there was a lot more voting fraud. There may be corrupt people at every step of the way, and just because there hasn't been abuses don't mean there can't be abuses.

For instance, one disadvantage of mail voting is that it makes it much easier to sell your vote. In normal in-person voting, you may sell your vote but there is no way to prove you voted in the directed way, or voted at all. With vote-by-mail, you can set up a table and give a $50 to everyone who fills out the ballot the right way and seals it and hands it to you to mail. Pricey, but you know they voted the way you paid them.
posted by smackfu at 10:41 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Homeless people don't have addresses.
Which keeps them from traditional voting now (via voter ID laws), no?


A few weeks ago I filled out a change of address form to vote in Illinois, and there was the option of filling out a rough map of your location (labeling cross streets) and indicating the area where you live most of the time with an X if you don't have an address.
posted by phunniemee at 10:50 AM on November 4, 2008


Here in Kitsap County Washington, we did vote-by-mail in the primary and this election. Not any-reason absentee. Unasked for, they send every registered voter a ballot, an unstamped return envelope, and a little newspaper full of voter information. They have drop-off stations open, as well, if you don't trust the mail with your vote. But, that's your ballot, and I don't think there are traditional polling places.

Apparently, in the primary, they were hoping for 40% voter participation with the new system. They got close to 70%, I'm told. That's just unheard of anywhere else I've lived.
posted by Netzapper at 11:08 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also in most states you don't need any real reason to vote by absentee ballot, so really, you could just vote by mail if you wanted to.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:12 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Homeless people don't have addresses.
Which keeps them from traditional voting now (via voter ID laws), no?


Voter ID laws are kind of a new phenomenon and just recently held up by the Supreme Court. They're also not terribly widespread. Traditionally (well, since the end of the poll tax and the beginning of basic universal suffrage...so, really, for the past few years, I guess), you didn't really need one; you walked in, said your name, and were given a ballot. You could use any old address, since it didn't really matter.
posted by General Malaise at 11:15 AM on November 4, 2008


Edit: I didn't mean that last line: Usually, you have to prove somehow that you're a resident of the town in which you want to vote. Most people can find something to "prove" an address.
posted by General Malaise at 11:17 AM on November 4, 2008


Today I was standing in line at the polls and the guy behind me— by his own admission, drunk— said that he was against early voting or vote by mail because it would allow people "too lazy to stand in line" to vote.
posted by Electrius at 11:23 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


It makes it easier to buy votes. You can show your ballot to someone and they can watch you seal and mail it. This is meant to be prevented by the secret ballot.

There was a great article about the history of voting methods in the U.S. and the emergence of the secret ballot in the New Yorker.
posted by Jahaza at 11:46 AM on November 4, 2008


A list of reasons from an anti-vote-by-mail activist.

I think the two fundamental objections are:

1) It makes the ballot less secret. Imagine a situation where Pa gathers Ma and the voting age kin around the kitchen table to fill out their ballots together in the proper family manner. Or Pa gives each $20 to vote a certain way. Voter coercion and vote selling are more difficult to prevent with vote by mail.

2) It makes it close to impossible to establish and maintain chain of custody which is extremely important if you want to be satisfied with the integrity of an election. People tend to associate "black-box problems" with electronic voting but vote-by-mail introduces any number of black boxes between you casting your ballot and your ballot being counted. As Rokusannoted above, once you drop your vote in the mail you have no idea where it goes.
posted by otio at 11:49 AM on November 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also in most states you don't need any real reason to vote by absentee ballot, so really, you could just vote by mail if you wanted to.

That isn't the case here in Alabama -- they make it unnecessarily difficult to vote by absentee ballot or to even find general voting information.

Worse still, the state makes little/no effort to actually inform voters what they will be voting on election day. This is a stark contrast compared to when I lived in California, which mailed all voters a sample ballot with explanations of what they will be voting on along with a postcard to send back to request your absentee ballot in the mail. (Does California still do it this way?)

Here in Alabama, if you don't read a local newspaper, you will have no idea what local candidates and ballot measures you'll be voting on election day. And as most of you know, only reading the text of a ballot measure on-the-spot in the booth is a lot like taking a test that you didn't study for the night before.
posted by jca at 12:10 PM on November 4, 2008


My "I Voted" sticker (King County, WA) has the message "farewell to polls" on it. Apparently the whole state will be going vote-by-mail in 2009.
posted by kindall at 1:05 PM on November 4, 2008


We have mail in voting and early voting here in Colorado. I think the early voting is great but the mail in ballot is a horrible idea. I worry that anyone in an abusive relationship will have their vote taken away. Intimidation is just too easy with the mail in system.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:07 PM on November 4, 2008


I used to vote absentee by mail routinely when I lived in California, and I liked it. It was much easier, given the huge number of initiatives and referenda, to do it a home and take as much time as I wanted.

Since then, I had an important envelope get lost in the mail (tax payment, ugh!) and I wouldn't want to mail it in. I'd be o.k. doing it through a drop site, provided there were convenient drop sites available. FWIW, my county in Texas has about 300,000 people; we had 10 early voting locations as well as early/absentee voting by mail. Early voting here was just about as easy.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:12 PM on November 4, 2008


This is a stark contrast compared to when I lived in California, which mailed all voters a sample ballot with explanations of what they will be voting on along with a postcard to send back to request your absentee ballot in the mail. (Does California still do it this way?)

Yes it does, and if you vote early at the courthouse (which I did Saturday) you fill out a vote-by-mail ballot and turn it in right there. So lots of people vote "absentee" with no restrictions.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:53 PM on November 4, 2008


Jill Lepore's recent article in The New Yorker, "Rock, Paper, Scissors" offers some historical clues.

'... Americans used to vote with their voices—viva voce—or with their hands or with their feet. Yea or nay. Raise your hand. All in favor of Jones, stand on this side of the town common; if you support Smith, line up over there. In the colonies, as in the mother country, casting a vote rarely required paper and pen. The word “ballot” comes from the Italian ballotta, or little ball, and a ballot often was a ball, or at least something ballish, like a pea or a pebble, or, not uncommonly, a bullet. Colonial Pennsylvanians commonly voted by tossing beans into a hat. Paper voting wasn’t meant to conceal anyone’s vote; it was just easier than counting beans. Our forebears considered casting a “secret ballot” cowardly, underhanded, and despicable; as one South Carolinian put it, voting secretly would “destroy that noble generous openness that is characteristick of an Englishman.” ...'
posted by Carol Anne at 5:44 AM on November 5, 2008


There was a recent story on NPR about Oregon's mail voting, and why it hasn't caught on nationally. Along with the reasons already stated, there was just the notion that people (and lawmakers in particular) just don't want to do away with the tradition of voters gathering across the country on a single day to collectively cast their vote.

I suppose it's like Christmas shopping. Every year more and more people buy gifts online, avoiding or minimizing the time spent amidst the chaos and crowds at malls. Sure it's a lot more convenient, but we've been doing it so long, it just wouldn't be the same if there came a day where everyone had the bulk of their Christmas shopping list items simply arrive at their doorstep. And I don't think election day would be the same if it only consisted of all vote tallies being released in a single instant.

That said, I think the simplest solution would be dropping ballots off directly at post offices, satellite city halls, etc. Can't think of any drawback to that, except maybe that it assumes everyone can correctly fill out their ballots without assistance.

Isn't Oregon also the only state that doesn't allow self-serve gas stations? You're weird, sirs.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 8:54 PM on November 5, 2008


Isn't Oregon also the only state that doesn't allow self-serve gas stations?

New Jersey doesn't.
posted by oaf at 11:35 AM on November 6, 2008


« Older J1 extracurricular activities   |   Help Me Look You In The Eyes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.