Democracy Begins At Home

Anne Martens

I hope I don't have to tell you all why Vote By Mail kicks ass. Ok, I will if you really want me to, but I'd rather you told other people, in other states, why Vote By Mail kicks ass. Fortunately, there's an opportunity right now for you to do just that!

There are diaries up on DailyKos and MyDD about Vote By Mail - check them out and recommend them.

The elections world outside of Oregon used to think Oregon's Vote By Mail system was strange, but now it's starting to look pretty smart. In the wake of long lines and wrong polling places in Ohio, in anticipation of the meltdown of electronic touchscreen voting machines and software that votes for you, instead of confusion and unreliable technology, we have a simple, low-tech, easily understandable method of voting that saves money, provides an auditable paper trail, and offers voters the convenience that leads to more informed and more likely participation.

The May issue of The American Prospect magazine includes a special report on all of the reasons that Vote By Mail works.

In Washington State, 35 of 39 counties have chosen to Vote By Mail. In California, absentee numbers are rising and the county clerks are strongly in favor of Vote By Mail. In Arizona, an entrepreneur is placing a measure on the ballot to allow Vote By Mail. And in Colorado, counties have chosen to use vote by mail for non-partisan elections, just like Oregon did in the 80's and 90's.

Should we thumb our nose at our sister states and say "I told you so?" Tempting, but not very effective, and not particulary good for democracy. Rather we should offer our experience as a guide, as a resource, and as an advocate. The Secretary of State's office of course offers information and resources, and the just-launched Vote By Mail Project has sprung into existence to provide advocacy, so show your support and check in with them for continuing coverage of VBM across the west and in all states where voter turnout, ballot integrity, and public confidence in elections are important. Oh right, that's everywhere.

  • (Show?)

    Local blogger bojack recently called VBM the "elephant in the room" because it invites "temptation for fraud."

    Just to be clear -- these are the same discredited arguments Lynn Snodgrass was making six and eight years ago. Since then, there has not been one single case of fraud with Vote by Mail.

    Those are the facts. If anyone wants to talk about "fraud" show up with proof.

  • (Show?)

    There is no evidence that voting by mail saves money. I know this is often claimed, Anne, but seriously, no one has looked at this closely.

    There are many ways to resolve the problems with precinct place voting and not hyper-individualize our voting system, which is what vote by mail does.

  • Anne (unverified)

    The evidence we have of VBM saving money comes directly from the county clerks, who would be happy to show you their budgets in before and after form. In Multnomah County, it took 1,300 employees to run a polling place election, but only 300 employees to run the 2004 vote by mail election. That saves money. And that's pretty good evidence in my book.

    As for hyper-individualization, I feel more connected to my community when people call and come to my door and talk to me about issues, instead of being force-fed some media consultant's idea of a good TV or radio spot. Seems to me that Vote By Mail, by allowing for more comprehensive and more intimate get-out-the-vote activities, actually brings people together.

  • (Show?)


    The problem is that the claims made in favor of VBM just don't stand up to scrutiny. The system does have some advantages--primarily, these are convenience and an increase in turnout for state and local contests.

    I've seen good data from John Kauffman on a per-ballot cost. I trust John and his budget. However, citing the total number of employees doesn't work, since under the traditional system, you need a lot of employees on election day but not before, while under VBM you are processing the ballots over a longer time period. This doesn't mean VBM does not save money, but it's not so simple as simply the number of employees.

    But that begs the larger question: do we adopt voting systems based on cost? I don't think so.

    So you say you are more connected when people come to your door. But what does VBM have to do with that? In fact, under VBM, "election day" runs for a good two weeks. So under VBM on a national basis, we'd expect MORE, not fewer TV and radio ads.

    Why does VBM make for "more comprehensive and intimate" GOTV efforts? GOTV exists under all voting systems. How is VBM better?

    These claims that it somehow results in superior democratic choice just don't hold up. And we never seem to be willing to consider the alternatives--such as an election day holiday--that retain all of the advantages.

    We are moving toward VBM in this country for two reasons. First, Americans demand convenience. Second, elections officials like VBM because it results in a more accurate count and a less hectic election day.

    I simply don't think these are good reasons, in an of themselves, to adopt this system, unless we know for sure what all the other costs and benefits are.

  • VBM Fan (unverified)

    Just a quick story about the accuracy of VBM...

    I have been in Oregon for 4 years now. I’ve changed my address about 4 times as well and also changed my signature style 2 years ago. After I had re-registered and changed my signature - I voted. I sent in my ballot the day after I had received it in the mail. About 6-8 days later I got a letter from the Election Department asking me to please verify that the signature on my sent-in ballot was my actual signature as it was different from the one in the past.

    That my friend is a system I not only like but also trust.

  • Anne (unverified)

    Ok, Professor Gronke, Reed University (ahem, I mean paul). Your last study of Vote By Mail came to the radical conclusion that Vote By Mail needed more study. Sounds like you're now volunteering to do an academic evaluation of the costs and benefits.

    I know it's bad to pit an academic against an academic, but Professor Southwell at U of O found that over 80% of Oregonians preferred voting by mail. She also found that people were more likely to make informed choices when they had time to study the issues.

    That VBM results in a more accurate count (your words) seems like it cuts in favor.

    And while you may not like convenience, the vast majority of Oregonians, and Americans do. We say we want people to participate in democracy, so why is it bad to make it easy for them to participate in democracy?

  • Anne (unverified)

    Oops, Reed College, sorry.

  • (Show?)

    No matter what your feelings are about Oregon's initiative system -- and I'm guessing paul's not a big fan -- it's unlikely to go away any time soon. Especially in a year like 2000 (that saw 26 ballot measures qualify), I think there's a real benefit in having the VBM system produce more quality voting.

    Paul, you mentioned an increase in TV and radio ads, but this doesn't seem to fit with the Oregon experience. I don't have hard data on this, but my personal experience has been more spending on grassroots field work to chase ballots and less on TV and radio. To the issue of 3 week elections, a campaign could go on the air sooner, but with a smaller buy, which would not increase the total of spots.

  • Charles (unverified)

    My only real concern about the prevalence of vote-by-mail (aside from normal vote counting/corruption issues) is the loss of privacy when casting a vote. I don't have data to back it up, but I suspect that VBM will result, generally, in all members of a family that live at the same address voting the same way.

    In the sanctity of a voting booth, a person has the freedom to vote for who/whatever they want, then, if necessary to keep the peace, tell their partner/parent the opposite. If a family sits down and fills out their ballots together then it may be easier to bow to the dominant partner's or parent's wishes, and vote the way they would want you to vote, rather than create an argument, particularly around controversial issues. Say if one family member is "in the closet", and would normally support gay rights issues, but votes against because they're afraid to bring up the topic in a family discussion. And it might look "suspicious" if you insist on filling out your ballot in secret, or voting in person.

    What I suspect is even more likely to happen though, is that one member of the family would simply fill out the ballots for the whole family. The result being the same, that every member of the family voted the same way regardless of their individual feelings on each issue/candidate.

    You could even conjecture larger abuses of VBM - i.e., say a particular church requesting that all members bring in their ballots so they can fill them out together, or maybe a church leader will come visit you at your home to "help you understand the issues". If you don't bring yours in or participate, then you're ostracized. Illegal yes, but it doesn't mean that it won't/doesn't happen.

    Social pressure can be a powerful tool, and one of the most powerful benefits of voting anonymously in a booth is that you're free to ignore social pressure if you like.

    I suppose the flipside of VBM is that more people vote due to convenience issues, so it may balance out, but I think we should be aware that we're giving up individual freedom for this convenience, and factor this issue into the larger discussion.

  • Garlynn (unverified)


    I fear that your fears may be over-blown. Under vote-by-mail, somebody could just as easy take their ballot into the office, and vote there.

    Or the library.

    Furthermore, there is this very tangible benefit of vote-by-mail, which I'm pretty certain that EVERYBODY on this blog can attest to:

    You can surf the internet while you vote.

    On the fence about measure 26-2? Google it.

    Not quite certain which of the contenders to support in the primary? Check out some blogs and newspaper endorsement pages online to refresh your memory as to which one you were leaning towards.

    It's a lot easier than the old system, of annotating the voter's guide and then lugging it into the polling booth with you! And, I'm convinced, it leads to more educated/informed voters.

  • (Show?)

    Here's my experience from working in a county elections office...

    Most of the employees the elections office has do not do that much handling of the ballots until election day.

    Those working the front counter handle some, as you have people coming in to get a new ballot (made an error, didn't arrive, etc.).

    There are ladies who sort all of the ballots by precinct and put them into batches for checking signatures.

    Then you have a crew of folks checking signatures. This is nice, as you can verify a signature before the ballot is opened. Those with incorrect signatures are flagged and pulled.

    Most of the work prior to the election is inputting voter registration cards, changing people's addresses, etc. This is a constant whether or not you have VBM.

    The extra time allotted for voting is nice to have, as people notice they didn't get a ballot and their either come or call into the office. We find out that their address hasn't been updated, and we get that taken care of. The person can now get a correct ballot.

    In the traditional system, you often can't change your address once the deadline for new registrants passes (here you can do it until the cut-off for dropping off your ballot). When it is allowed, it makes things on election day take a lot more time.

    The ballots aren't even opened until election day, which is when the count begins.

    People may think the ballots are being handled a lot once they come in, but in reality they're just sitting there in the elections office in boxes.

  • (Show?)

    I should also note how long the lines already are here on election day. Can you imagine what they'd be like (even with a location per precinct)?

  • Adam J. Smith (unverified)

    Thanks, Annie for another terrific piece, and for the plug for the Vote By Mail Project.

    I'd like to spefically address Paul's question about how VBM changes the GOTV process. In fact, while perhaps not as obvious as other advantages such as convenience, voter preference, or a guaranteed paper trail, this is one of the primary reasons that VBM first caught my interest as an issue.

    With a 2+ week window during which people are filling out and sending or turning in their ballots, there is time to reach out to most or even all of your supporters individually. There is just no way to do this kind of person-to-person GOTV during a one-day election. VBM thereby makes it worthwhile to spend time and resources during the campaign to identify those supporters, and even more specifically, to learn about the issues and concerns that motivate them. There are major, and in my opinion, beneficial effects of this kind of campaigning.

    First, by engaging people as individuals, taking the time to find out something about them, and returning - in person or by phone - during GOTV time with a message, and even a messenger near and dear to their hearts, we re-connect the voter with the political process. A volunteer, for example, might contact a pro-choice (or pro-second amendment for that matter) voter in late October and say "Hello Mr. Smith, I'm a volunteer with NARAL (or the NRA, or SEIU, or whatever.) I know that reproductive freedom is important to you, as it is to me, and I wanted to remind you that there's a very important issue/race on the ballot and we really need your vote. Have you filled out your ballot yet...?"

    Yes, we need YOU and YOUR VOTE on an issue that WE ARE BOTH VERY CONCERNED ABOUT. Contrast this with a campaign run almost entirely through the media, which has the effect of de-personalizing the process and distancing voters from the candidates and issues. I think that this can be disempowering.

    In addition, over time, as we learn more and more about the individuals who make up a district, we can use campaign resources far more efficiently, and stop wasting millions of dollars convincing the already-convinced (or the unconvincable,) or delivering message A to folks who care mostly about issue B, or GOTV'ing people who are likely to vote against us.

    Oh, and did I mention convenience, voter preference, and a guaranteed paper record?

  • (Show?)

    Charles, how dare you question the Bradbury-Sten orthodoxy?

    All is well... vote by mail... voter-owned elections... X-PAC... creative class... wi-fi cloud... linchpin... OSPIRG... affordable housing... public-private partnerships... smart growth... all is well...

    There now. Back to sleep.

  • (Show?)

    Key phrases of Charles' comment: "I suspect" "You could conjecture" "can't back it up but...".... yep, all the key ingredients of a bojack regular.

    Thanks for the content-free post, Jack. Feel free to come back with actual facts to back up your "suspicion" of VBM fraud.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Every time this subject comes up during an election year, I issue this challenge and not a single defender of VBM ever has the guts to stand up and address it. But I'll throw it out again:

    No one can prove that the person who signed the envelope is the one who marked the ballot.

    Furthermore, it is all but impossible to conduct any kind of polling about the level of this kind of fraud, particularly between friends and family members, because to admit to doing it is to admit to a felony.

    To Charlie Burr, the in-your-face answer to your in-your-face ad hominem argumentation style is this: Prove the kind of fraud I describe here doesn't go on every single election. In credible electoral settings, felonious vote fraud occurs anytime someone marks a ballot for someone else UNLESS that person requires assistance to mark the ballot AND attests to such before marking the ballot. And there are good reasons having to do with influencing how someone votes for that.

    Furthermore, the very reason that disability advocates previously have widely opposed requiring paper ballots, and even paper trails on the electronic machines required by HAVA, is so that folks who would have trouble marking or verifying a paper ballot on their own can cast their vote in an election unaided, uninfluenced, and in exactly the same way (ie. on an electronic machine) as everybody else.

    Throw in the fact that VBM has all but destroyed the ability for candidates to develop a coherent campaign because there is not a single election day towards which a candidate can build a messaging strategy, and concentrate media buys and campaign appearances, and it is more than curious that "progressives" defend this system as somehow being good for democracy.

    So I'll say in more direct terms what Paul Gronke says it polite terms: Frankly, all I see in the arguments by VBM supporters is the self-centered argument that it works for them (i.e. allows them to be intellectually and/or electorally lazy), regardless of whether it really is good for the democracy. And there has yet to be a study or serious analysis that demonstrates it is good for the democracy. Remember, the numbers show VBM doesn't significantly increase turn-out no matter what you want to believe.

    Quite simply, VBM debases our democracy because it makes a mockery of elections and election day as the closest thing we have to a unifying democratic experience.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    I wanted to answer Adam J. Smith's vacuous arguments separately:

    First his point Oh, and did I mention convenience, voter preference, and a guaranteed paper record? With regard to covenience and voter preference, see my previous post questioning how intellectually and electorally lazy voters are good for democracy. With regard to the guaranteed paper trail, see my comment that in the end the VBM trail is worthless as a true measure of voter intent since you can't prove the person who signed the envelope is the one who marked the ballot.

    And oh did I mention that you can't conduct anything remotely like an exit poll with VBM, the only scientifically sound method, if done right, for detecting fraud.

    With regard to your loopy GOTV argument. Simply put, a candidate doesn't know who has and who hasn't voted yet in that two-week period and so can waste a lot of time contacting voters who have already voted by the time they are contacted. If in that same two-week period no one had voted yet, the candidate can still do everything you say, and be assured that each contact can potentially result in a vote.

    Arguments like these by VBM proponents say more about the essential dumbness underlying VBM than any opponent could possibly offer.

  • (Show?)

    Actually, you're wrong. The candidate does typically know who has voted and who hasn't. Lists are available from the elections office that show just that.

    Yes, some may have filled out their ballot and not turned it in, and are therefore still listed as having not voted. However, when ballots arrive at the elections office, the barcode is scanned. This put them into the computer as having voted.

    Any good campaign manager either has access to an online voter file that has these updates, or they purchase the updates themselves.

    As such, you can target just those who are listed as having not voted yet.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Actually Jenni, you are right only in pedantic detail. And your own answer actually proves the essential point I made.

    As a practical matter in the context of a campaign, the lag from the time the voter turns in their ballot to the time the candidate collects that information and plans their day-to-day voter contact strategy does result in wasted resources of time and energy. So a candidate has to chose between wasting time and resources in that manner, or just wasting time on non-productive contacts.

    No matter what, your own comments point out that at the bottom line this system introduces a needless waste of candidate resources in GOTV drives, AND will result in some percentage of non-productive contacts because the voter has already voted.

  • (Show?)

    italics off?

    Actually, you usually pick up the list every day and use that to play your canvass/calls the next day. The really organized ones will sometimes pick it up first thing in the morning to plan your strategy for the day.

    Yes, you're going to find some people who have either filled in their ballot, but not turned it in, or have mailed it in but it hasn't arrived at the elections office.

    However, this isn't different than a traditional vote, as there you have a number of people who may have voted absentee for various reasons (I used to always vote absentee so I could work the polls without interruption).

    Candidates and campaigns love being able to tell each day exactly who has and hasn't voted. It makes for much easier planning of GOTV activities each day. Instead of having to contact every single voter, you only have to contact those still listed as not having voted. Having to contact 30,000 people and maybe hitting a few that have already voted is still a lot less time than having to contact 100,000.

  • Anne (unverified)

    There is no perfect elections system. But it is much easier to commit fraud in a polling place than with Vote By Mail.

    Ast1st - in any polling place in all but 2 states (until some states adopted ID requirements, which have their own problems), no one could prove that the person voting was the person in the poll book. Yes, the case is still such that in many states, I can walk into a polling place, say that I'm you, and vote your ballot. If you show up later, well, too bad. At least here the ballot is more likely to get into your hands, where you can be responsible for keeping it in your hands, and you can sign it and rest assured that your signature will be checked.

    On disabled access, VBM must be used in conjunction with systems that allow voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently. There are lots of types of disabilities out there, and VBM works for the deaf but not the blind. So we work with the disabilities community to find solutions, and this is no different than it would be with any other type of voting.

    Exit polling is hardly accurate. I'e done exit polling, and despite my best efforts, the sample was less than statistically representative. With VBM, the first count released at 8:05 pm on election night is more accurate than any exit poll will ever be because it includes most of the ballots cast.

    That VBM extends GOTV and makes candidates spend more time courting voters seems like an argument in favor. I like having more time to talk to my candidates and see where they stand. I like being reminded by organizations that I align with that a candidate is the right one. I like the opportunities that an extended GOTV period allow. And all candidates can get daily updates to see who has voted (who has voted, not how they voted) and target their GOTV accordingly.

    Finally, I'll ask again, why is it so terrible to make it easy for people to participate in democracy? Why do people complain about folks not voting, and then argue that we should make it more difficult to vote because if it's not difficult then it's not worthwhile, or if people aren't willing to struggle then they shouldn't be allowed to have a say?

    This strikes me as the worst possible argument against VBM - it boils down to an argument that not everybody should be allowed to participate in democracy, only those who try hardest, who struggle most, who have jobs where they can take time off, who have easy access to child care, who don't work night shifts, who are willing to spend hours to find the right polling place, only those special people are worthy of the privilege of participating in democracy. Oh, but I'm sorry, the right to vote is a right, not a privilege, and it should be treated as such. It should be accessible to everybody.

  • (Show?)

    To Jenni's point about getting the voting info to facilitate smart canvassing.

    Jenni's correct on this. The biggest lag that I've seen during an election cycle is three to four days.

    People that actually get out and canvass have known this since VBM was instituted here in Oregon.



    you are correct that exit polling is harder, but I do have a couple of copies of the US COnstitution beside me here at the desk, and I haven't been able to find a single mention of exit polling.


    I'm tickled that we got into VBM at the same time as the Deibold Bastards set out to systematically destroy democracy.

    Kinda gives us a leg up.

  • LT (unverified)

    Paul, Too bad you can't talk to our retired County Clerk, who was an advocate of vote by mail. You said There is no evidence that voting by mail saves money. I know this is often claimed, Anne, but seriously, no one has looked at this closely.

    Do you know for a fact that no county clerk documented the difference in cost between the 1996 special election for US Senate (vote by mail) and regular elections?

    Our County Clerk did--and talked about it on radio and in other venues. At a time when up to 70% or more of Marion County voters chose absentee ballot, our county clerk still had to pay people to sit in all the voting pcts. Then he couldn't count the absentee ballots until the polling ballots had been counted and those poll books closed. Then a check had to be made to make sure no one voted both absentee and at a polling booth. But of course that didn't cost anything in wages, upkeep of polling booths etc.? Get real. Just because Paul has never talked to anyone (or read anything) documenting the difference in cost doesn't mean no one ever did the research.

  • LT (unverified)

    Ask, as I recall, there was a story some years ago about a rural elected official (county sheriff or assessor or something) which is why it got so much play. His wife had marked the ballot but had broken her hand or arm or something and couldn't sign the ballot, so he signed her name. The system kicked it back because it wasn't her signature. It was discovered he'd signed his wife's ballot and was prosecuted.

    Don't recall the details (year, county, etc.) but it did happen, so don't say "no one ever talks about this question" given the publicity it got the year it happened. It might have been a southwest Oregon county--was a rural county as I recall.

    And as far as exit polls and day to day voter contact, etc. that is why I like Vote by Mail. It pretty much eliminated the late hit (mailer arriving in the mailbox on election day or the day before, last min. radio ad, etc.). Elections are held for voters, not for the convenience of campaigns (the Constitution does begin "We the people..."). I have never been a believer in exit polls, so anything to stop those is fine with me.

    Of course, I realize there are some people who prefer to have an enemy. But if the sunset of ballot measures mentioned elsewhere on this blog were to come to pass, my guess is that prob. 80% would renew vote by mail.

    Unless they think people who commute and can't get home in time to vote (working in Wilsonville or Portland and living in Salem, for instance, or living in a rural area and working in a city) are supposed to vote absentee. And why is that a better system, you vbm skeptics? Or would you rather attack than defend the old system where people signed up to be permanent absentee voters? Wasn't that the same thing?

  • (Show?)

    Ask-- Where's my proof VBM has not produced any cases of fraud? The fact that there have been zero cases of fraud since voters passed VBM in 1998. If you have evidence otherwise, cite specifics.

    As far as an in-your-face argument style, I can assure that despite bojack's comments -- and lack of specifcs -- that VBM has NOTHING to do with the race for Position 2 of the Portland City Commission.

    But if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like Erik Sten.

    Paul-- I think increased turnout alone is enough reason to support VBM, but I agree that a National Election Holiday's also a good idea. But I don't think they'd have to be mutually exclusive.

  • Karynn (unverified)

    Paul - Whenever I think about a national election holiday, my next thought is that this hallowed day would likely replace the day after Thanksgiving as the biggest shopping day of the year. Hard to imagine that it would really be a holiday for Americans who work in retail & many service jobs.

  • (Show?)

    As the campaign manager for the Vote By Mail intiative in 1998 I spent a good portion of that campaign knocking down all of the very same straw-man arguments that have been put forward in this thread.

    To put it simply NO election system is perfect. There is always room for error because human beings are involved and either intentionally or unintentionally may mess up.

    That said we passed the VBM measure by 70% statewide and in every county in this state. The people wanted and demanded it and our voter turnout in the past 6 years shows us the very tangible benefits.

    You can sit and play "what if" games until the cows come home but as Charlie points out there is zilch, zippo evidence of fraud and especially when you consider the alternatives with proven fraud track records.

    Anne, as this is an issue near and dear to my heart and something I invested a good portion of the 98 campagin cycle working on I would be more than happy to offer any assistance you may need either on DalyKos or the Vote By Mail project.

  • (Show?)


    No, I am not particularly a fan of voting by mail. I like election day, and I think there are alternatives to voting by mail that retain many of its advantages without its disadvantages.

    But what I am a huge fan of is adopting election reforms intelligently, and not promoting misinformation about these most critical parts of our democratic system. I've frankly been shocked at the misinformation that is disseminated about VBM.

    Just go to the Secretary of State's website. Virtually every claim made there has no empirical support.

    If we adopt vbm more extensively nationwide, I just want to make sure we know why we are doing it, and what the potential consequences are.

    Anne and Jenni,

    I don't doubt that a fully vote by mail system may be less expensive than a mixed system (LT, that is what your clerk was comparing it to). I wonder if it would be less expensive than a system like a national holiday with reduced absentee balloting..

    But I return to my first question: is cost the primary factor by which we choose an elections system?


    Southwell's study asked voters whether they liked vote by mail. It asked voters--retrospectively--whether they thought they made more informed choices (and this begs the question--more informed compared to what?). The survey basically shows one thing: voters say they like the system.

    Voters also like the kicker. They like Prop 37. They like Prop 5. They hate sales taxes. Does this make all of them a good idea?


    I am sorry but please don't promote that canard about voting by mail. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT IT INCREASES TURNOUT. Check out the graphic in Don Hamilton's article (link above). We were 10% above the national average before vbm, we are 10% now.

    And we can handle the fraud problem easily. If ID requirements are put into place (as is likely) at many precinct voting states, then vbm will be far behind in terms of guaranteeing the legitimacy of the ballot.

    Anne again,

    Yes, GOTV efforts are spread over a longer period. That's why the evidence thus far seems to be that VBM and other early voting systems actually increase the costs of campaigns. That's OK, as long as you are willing to accept it--higher campaign costs, a longer period of campaign advertising--all so that voters can vote at their own convenience.

    I never argue that voters should have to struggle to vote. I can think of many ways to make voting access easier.

    Jenni finally,

    Yes. I am out there advocating with states that are adopting more lenient absentee balloting procedures to release the turnout data on a daily basis--and for low cost--just for the reasons you outline.

  • Anne (unverified)


    Please, go to the Secretary of State's website, where you will find links to all sorts of resources, including your own study that says VBM needs more study. Still haven't heard whether you're going to do that.

    I personally do not find the cost or turnout arguments to be the most persuasive reasons to go to mail voting. Regardless, any county clerk in WA or OR will tell that turnout may not have increased in national elections, but it has increased after vote by mail in local elections - bonds and annexations and such. And any county clerk in WA or OR will tell you that it saves money. You're an academic at Reed who had the opportunity to study this but didn't, so I'm more likely to trust the people who actually run elections on these issues.

    I do think voter convenience and improvement in elections administration (uniformity, fraud prevention, etc.) are persuasive. I don't understand why you hate voter convenience. If, as you claim, you don't think voters should have to struggle to vote, then why do you speak with such disdain of voter convenience? Do you only hate mail? Do you send your mother birthday cards? Are there specific types of convenience that you find more convenient than others? What is it about letting voters choose when and where to mark their ballots that makes you so upset?

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Anne - I'm only going to answer your last comment because it really is the reason that VBM advocates want VBM.

    The voter convenience argument is really the only one VBM supporters care about, and no matter what semantic games folks want to play in most cases, it really is just plain childish laziness.

    There is unifying societal value in having people concentrate their thinking and taking the time on a single day to take part in virtually the only unifying public ritual we have.

    There is a pace and arc to electoral campaigning for elected office, not too mention resource efficiency, in building to a single election day.

    Despite your bizarre claims otherwise, it is much harder to commit voting fraud (as opposed to counting fraud which can occur equally in both systems in this era of electronic tabulation) in a polling place election because you would have to mobilize large numbers of people to commit felonies in a public place on a single day. We don't know if voting irregularities including improper influence that would in fact be felonious if they occurred in a polling place have been happening in private. Or won't in the future because we don't care enough to say we should use a system that puts a value on making it more, rather than less, difficult to commit voting fraud.

    FInally, there is no way to run an exit poll and your ignorant innumeracy shows when you diss exit polling: Part of polling design includes detecting sampling error at least to a level that it can be corrected to an exceedingly high probability below the margin of difference.

    Why is it you and the vast majority of "convenience first" VBM supporters care so little about the integrity of the electoral system, and what the civic ritual means for a representative democracy, to so stubbornly argue that the majority of the electorate this is quite able shouldn't have to get up off their lazy, self-absorbed butts one day every two years to participate in the process?

  • LT (unverified)

    Ask, Are you really saying that before Vote By Mail, neighbors all chatted with each other when they stood in line to vote and no county had over 50% voting absentee before VBM? The voter convenience argument is really the only one VBM supporters care about, and no matter what semantic games folks want to play in most cases, it really is just plain childish laziness. There is unifying societal value in having people concentrate their thinking and taking the time on a single day to take part in virtually the only unifying public ritual we have.

    The ONLY reason I didn't sign up for permanent absentee like many I knew (and I live less than a mile from the school which was our polling place) is that I felt sorry for the election board ladies who sat there all day and had few voters come in.

    Some elections in our county went to 75% absentee before Vote By Mail. And do you really think that it would have been a great thing in 2000 with all those ballot measures if everyone had to have marked their voter pamphlet beforehand and taken it into a booth to vote on all those ballot measures instead of voting on one measure at a sitting over a period of days? Or should we have had the sort of long lines that Ohio had in 2000 because voters shouldn't have convenience?

    If someone wants community feeling, they should drop their ballot off at county elections on election day.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    No LT, I"m not saying that folks talked while they were wating to vote. And I never can figure out how you always jump to such bizarre conclusions. What I quite plainly said is that there is civic value in having the electorate of a state or nation concentrate their thinking on one day to considering and devoting a small amount of time in their day to carrying out their civic duty.

    The fact that in the NW we even allowed folks to sign up for permanent absentee voting when there was no reason on their part but laziness says even more negative about us.

    And yes there is considerable value to having folks vote on a single day for all those ballot measures. First they might think about devoting the resources to have elections run properly and efficiently. And second they might think about whether it is very smart or good to have so many ballot initiatives. Two things that most folks in this state, who are VBM supporters. obviously don't care much about.

    And LT, regrettably, the last thing I really want is a "community" feeling with most of the folks here who don't care enough about the democracy to not treat voting like every other self-centered consumer activity in their life. But the real obligation we have in a democracy is to work at building a sense of and contributing to the commonweal.

  • adam j. smith (unverified)

    "shouldn't have to get up off their lazy, self-absorbed butts one day every two years to participate in the process?"

    Ask1st, obviously, you have never worked a low-wage hourly job while trying to raise and support a family. Glad to hear that for you, heading down to the polls for a couple of hours on a day not of your choosing is simply a matter of motivation. You have a good life. But not everyone does, and for them, the ability to vote on their own time within a reasonable window can certainly make the difference between voting and not.

    As to exit polling, it is not done primarily as a check on the accuracy of polling results, it can itself be used to influence elections by depressing turnout, and as our last presidential election showed, it is not always all that reliable. Under VBM, ballots can be actually counted - either in samples or for an entire race - to check the reliability of the machine count.

    As to Paul's argument about fraud. Have you been reading the papers? We are in the midst of a crisis of historic proportions over the reliability of our voting apparatus in this country, and people's faith in its integrity. In California, the county clerks have called for all-VBM elections because they don't trust the touchscreen machines, which have been shown to be both inaccurate and prone to being hacked... and those county clerks calling for VBM are the ones who have been testing the electronic machines. The story's the same in states all over the country. And no, the machinery that counts mail-in ballots is not the same, and is not as easily corruptible as touch screen machines, and there is, as in Oregon, a guaranteed paper record.

    As Charlie Burr mentions, there have been zero cases of reported undue influence under Oregon's VBM, and even if a few isolated instances have slipped under the radar, I posit that the inverse of that situation is far more likely and more widespread. To wit: Under Vote By Mail, people who, for one reason or another, do not feel familiar enough with the issues or candidates to make informed choices actively seek out trusted friends or family members who share their interests and, ballot in hand, seek their advice and input. Thereby, people who would not otherwise vote, or who would make under-informed guesses standing in a voting booth, feel comfortable and confident that their choices will be the right ones for them. I have friends who do this all the time. Politics is not their thing, though they know that the outcomes of elections impact their lives in real ways.

    THAT is community.

  • LT (unverified)

    I have friends who do this all the time. Politics is not their thing, though they know that the outcomes of elections impact their lives in real ways.

    THAT is community.

    I have talked with 2 friends of long standing this week--called on the phone and asked "what do you think about..." certain candidates.

    And as far as ask knowing why people register for absentee ballots--in some cases it was senior citizens or those who needed to be driven to polling places (perhaps ask agrees with the pundit who said "anyone who doesn't have the energy to walk a few blocks to the polls" and heard from lots of people whose polling place was miles away) or it was people with a long commute or whose job took them out of town on voting day.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Adam -

    You have no idea what I or my family might have done in our lives, including making an effort to participate in the electoral process on election day, you presumptuous punk.

    The point is that elections should be important enough that it should be law that employers have to give people time off to vote. And if we actually cared enough about in Oregon to treat voting as just another "it's all about me" consumer activity, we would have that law as an important symbol of what elections really mean.

    The fact that there has not been a single reported case of undue influence means nothing except that both you and Charlie Burr have some serious cognitive deficiencies: You can't prove a negative by the absence of an example. Nor is it valid to argue just because fraud hasn't happened yet it can't happen in the future when the opportunities undeniably exist AND we don't show we put value in preventing fraud by implementing a system with the specific intent of making fraud more difficult. Furthermore, it's becoming pretty obvious from this thread that VBM supporters don't even understand what can constitute undue influence, much less understand how unlikely it is it would ever be reported in VBM because of how it would go on in private.

    You are also wrong about the role and depressing effects of exit polling. First, exit polling does serve as an audit check, whether or not the media has prostituted exit polls for other purposes or the people care to act: When the exit polling varies so far from the "official results", it is a red flag that people should take a closer look at the election. It is a mathematical fact that the descrepancies between the exit polls and the reported results in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 are unexplainable by any of the hypotheses advanced so far, leaving fraud as the very likely cause. And any depressing effect of the polls is not an indictment of polling, rather it is an indictment of the slovenly electoral behavior of those folks who don't vote and blame early exit poll results.

    As far as California, you seriously misrepresent the facts: In the publicized cases, the first and preferred choice, as well as the legal mandate, was for machines with verifiable paper trails. The manufacturers played a game of chicken with officials because of the impending HAVA deadlines and the voters lost. With no recourse, elections officials are looking to VBM as a poor last ditch solution with an upcoming election out of desperation. Typical that with no such crisis we would make that desparation solution our first choice here in Oregon.

    And frankly, there is no reason given in your loopy argument why your timid friends couldn't do exactly what you say with a fascimile of the "ballot in hand", and then show up with that to mark their ballot on the designated election day after the campaign has taken it's full arc. What is so hard for your or your friends to understand about that?

    LT -

    No one said there should not be absentee ballots for those who have a legitimate reason to be absent. You and most VBM supporters are not in the category. And by the way, there also ispersonal and civic virtue in helping those who just need transportation to the polls on election day so they can participate in that civic ritual.

    Jeremy Wright -

    Unfortunately, it's pretty clear that you don't actually understand what a strawman argument is. The arguments by the few commentors here opposed to VBM address the specific arguments of the VBM proponents and the specific facts of VBM. A "strawman argument" is when someone - like you - ignores the actual argument someone is making, and refutes an argument you substitute instead. And you commit a form of the logical fallacy known as "hasty generalization" when you and Charlie Burr argue that because fraud hasn't happened yet to our knowledge, it means that it can't happen now or in the future.

  • adam j. smith (unverified)

    "presumptuous punk"?

    Illiminating AND alliterative.

  • adam j. smith (unverified)

    Ummm, "Illuminating." Heh.

    That'll teach me never to post that early in the morning.

  • (Show?)


    With all due respect, I ignored the first reference to my academic status. Now you use it again as some sort of cudgel. This is the second time this has happened on this blog. Are we anti-intellectual here? Are academics not welcome?

    Individualizing politics has all sorts of costs to society. Elections are one of the last mass public rituals we have left in our society. We have experienced a decades long drop in trust in government, trust in others, participation in social and political groups. In the words of a well-known scholar, we "bowl alone" in America.

    Some are very concerned about these trends in American political and social life. You apparently are not. That's fair. But I don't know why you feel the need to be so dismissive of those of us who believe that voting by mail, for all of its advantages, may actually have some disadvantages.

    I do like making voting more convenient. Please stop misrepresenting me ("hate convenience" -- where did that come from??).

    I have made six proposals to study voting by mail. Some foundations and the federal government, in their wisdom, chose not to fund them.

    The State of Oregon has been a very helpful partner with me to help identify some of the flaws in the current system. They recognize that while I may be a skeptic, I am a fair minded policy analyst. I am also working with King County, WA, which is moving to voting by mail in 2007. I am presenting a paper at a Brookings conference in two weeks. I am currently drafting another proposal to a foundation.

    Does that satisfy you?


    LT, there is a big difference between waiting in a line at the county office and having everyone vote on the same day. The nature of election day fundamentally changes when we have half or more of the electorate voting a week before election day.

    I think it is too bad that we cannot even consider a reform like a national holiday for elections. This would make this more democratic moment a day for all of us to think about politics, discuss candidates, and cast our ballot.


    Adam, there are ways to guarantee a legitimate ballot with a valid paper record w/o going to VBM. The reason CA counties are calling for all VBM has nothing to do with the machines. It is because they spent millions on machines, then the legislature changed the law to require paper trails, and they have to contemplate spending millions more. So instead they are opting for VBM. That is just the sort of reason why we should NOT adopt a voting system, just to save a few bucks.

  • (Show?)

    Just to make clear, I am not an opponent of voting by mail. I am a scholar who studies the impact of institutional reforms on individual electoral behavior. My hypotheses on VBM are (and hey, if anyone has a few dollars laying around, fund me!):

    • It enhances turnout in low intensity contests, but does not draw new voters into the system. (Mostly shown already, but with vbm expanding rapidly nationwide, there may be ways to draw disempowered segments of the population into the system)
    • It is taken advantage of more frequently by those facing inconveniences in voting (e.g. longer commute times). (Already shown).
    • It is used less frequently by lower income and minority voters (shown multiple times, I am not sure why).
    • VBM decreases the contribution of elections to the stock of social capital (not shown)
    • It increases campaign spending by extending GOTV efforts over a longer period (shown via anecdotal evidence thus far)
    • IF states make absentee/early voting records available cheaply, vote by mail could actually reduce costs by allowing campaign targeting (not yet shown)
    • It reduces the ability of campaigns to launch last minute attack ads (not yet shown).

  • Karynn (unverified)

    italics off, please


    Where exactly do Charlie and Jeremy "argue that because fraud hasn't happened yet to our knowledge, it means that it can't happen now or in the future"? Or is AQ1st substituting her/his own argument for theirs merely to scorch it to ashes with the fiery breath of reason?

    let us pause to offer AQ1st a refreshing mint

    In any case, AQ1st's assertion here is both fallacious and false. One commits the fallacy of "hasty generalization" when one makes conclusions based on an unrepresentative sample, which is clearly not what Charlie and Jeremy have not done. AQ1st might more accurately have mischaracterized them as an making an "appeal to ignorance," although in this case there is some actual evidence from academic inquiry to suggest that the incidence of fraud in VBM in Oregon is next-to-nothing. Because the claims made by Charlie and Jeremy are also not as extreme as AQ1st makes them out to be, I'm inclined to dismiss AQ1st's charge here as a red herring. At best, however, AQ1st has committed a bad reasons fallacy.

    This is opposed to AQ1st's (presumably) purposeful misreading of Adam's comments suggesting that working families might find it difficult to fit voting into their schedules, and thus that voter preference for convenience need not necessarily signal laziness. AQ1st's (presumably) feigned indignation provides lousy cover for the sleight of hand that follows. The "point" to the rant about lazy voters is that employers should give people the day off? Et tu quoque, AQ1st?

    Thanks for the laughs.

  • Anne (unverified)

    Paul, thank you for clarifying, I didn't spend 19 years in school to hate academics, but when you, in your capacity as professor, study and study and then say it needs more study, it makes me wonder why you're not the one doing the further study and when any conclusions might be established.

    I fully agree with your list of points above, except for the social capital one. I still think that VBM offers community in a new way - we don't have town squares anymore and people lament bowling alone, but there are new opportunities for different types of connections, and just because our new way of building community is new doesn't mean it's less worthy.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Karyn - surely this is a jest. Your misunderstanding in every case of the fallacies involved is fundamental. I don't think anybody cares about this thread any longer, so it's not worth saying anything more than providing definitions of all three fallacies and leeting folks judge for themselves whether your analysis is pedantic quibbling or substantive:

    "Hasty Generalization" - Is not the fallacy of drawing a conclusion from an unrepresentative sample, but of drawing a sample (in this case of experience) that is so small that it could be unrepresentative. The distinction is singificant: One could know that the sample is so small it could be unrepresentative without knowing if it is in fact representative or unrepresentative. It is that uncertainty that makes it a "hasty" generalization rather than an "false" generalization. There sample of experience indeed is too small, your quibbling seems to be that they did not explicitly say what I offered as a summary of the substance of their comment. The philosophy of logic speaks to both levels in analyzing the validity of an argument.

    "Appeal to Ignorance" - is the fallacy of arguing that because someone has not proving something to be the case, the opposite must be the case. Suffice it to say that I assume, and the wording of my comments reflect, that Adam, Charlie, and Jeremy are smart enough to not make such a blatantly invalid argument.

    "Red Herring" - is the fallacy of introducing an irrelevancy to distract attention from the real issue being argued. There are levels of red herring arguments, but I don't think anyone could reasonably argue that the comments made did not address the substantive merit of the arguments bespeaking confidence in VBM.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Anne -

    Your last comment about how the "me-first", self-indulgent consumerist approach to voting that is VBM somehow represents a "new way of building community" quite simply contradicts any reasonable definition of "building" or "community". It is that fallacious approach of draining the meaning from words to simply appropriate their emotional impact for other one's own purposes that has reduced our civic dialogue to the abysmal level we have reached. And it is pretty much of a piece with the outrageous disregard for truth and reality for which progressives castigate the right wing.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    A technical correction to the response to Karyn:

    "but of drawing a sample (in this case of experience)"

    should have been

    "but of drawing a conclusion from a sample (in this case of experience)"

  • (Show?)

    Anne says: "in any polling place in all but 2 states (until some states adopted ID requirements, which have their own problems), no one could prove that the person voting was the person in the poll book. Yes, the case is still such that in many states, I can walk into a polling place, say that I'm you, and vote your ballot. If you show up later, well, too bad."

    That is not how voting in person works. Each voter must sign the poll book, next to his/her pre-printed name and address, and those signatures can be verified by comparison to the voter registration images online. Just like verifying the signature on the outer VBM envelope. Supporters of VBM must believe that looking at a signature on a VBM envelope is good enough security.

    In the 2005 Legislative session, the Secretary of State introduced and supported a bill to prohibit anyone (other than the signor) from writing anything about a petition signor on a petition signature sheet. That is, even the elderly or disabled with very shaky handwriting would have to print their own names and addresses and cities, etc., on the sheet. A wife could not write the address for the husband, etc. Yet, VBM allows anyone to fill out another person's ballot, as long as the other person signs the outer envelope. How is this consistent?

  • Anne (unverified)

    Dan - you're right, those signatures in a poll book could be verified. But in every state except New York, they were not verified. So I sign in as Dan Meek, and not only is there an illegal ballot in the mix, but you're disenfranchised.

    I trust voters to take care with their own ballots. I find it unlikely that any voter would open their ballot in the presence of some overbearing electoral busybody that is planning to bulldoze their votes - it's entirely up to the voter when and where to vote, in whatever environment and with whatever privacy precautions they choose. I think voters can handle that freedom and responsibility.

    As for the petition rules proposal, that is intended to prevent fraud in the initiative system by reducing the risk that Oregonians sign petitions without reading them. The problem was that some petition circulators would place a broadly appealing issue at the top of a stack, have the voter fill in all the info, and then ask them to sign a number of other petitions and offer to fill in the other info for them, implying that all the petitions were related or on the same issue when in fact they were not. So, you sign on top to save kittens and it turns out that you also signed to to turn baby seals into bio-fuel. So, that's off topic, and if you have more questions about it I'd be happy to answer them offline and/or in my official capacity. Thanks!

  • (Show?)

    As for the petition rules proposal, that is intended to prevent fraud in the initiative system by reducing the risk that Oregonians sign petitions without reading them. The problem was that some petition circulators would place a broadly appealing issue at the top of a stack, have the voter fill in all the info, and then ask them to sign a number of other petitions and offer to fill in the other info for them, implying that all the petitions were related or on the same issue when in fact they were not.

    The cure is worse than the problem.

    Having collected hundreds of signatures for various causes in the past few years, I have encountered several people who for various reasons -- arthritis, MS, ALS, blindness, to name a few that I've encountered -- cannot properly fill out the entire signature line. The current rules effectively prevent these disabled Oregonians from participating in the public initiative process.

    Although I support Oregon's VBM system, Dan is correct when he points out that it that the verification process is weak, compared to in-person voting. In canvassing, I have visited more than a few households where a husband votes for himself and his wife. That's easy to do with VBM, much harder to do in the prvacy of a polling booth.

    With regard to in-person balloting, Dan is right. I also tend to agree that VBM makes traditional grassroots GOTV efforts much more difficult to do.

    The flip-side is that VBM increases voter participation which, in my view, is far more important than the inconviences it creates for political campaigns,

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    sjp -

    Finally, someone came forward to admit what I have assiduously been working to get VBM supporters to publicly state (since I gave you the benefit of the doubt that you are smart enough to know this is the case.)

    As I said originally, there is no way with VBM to know if the voter who signed the envelope actually marked the ballot, and wihout undue influence. Furthermore, because this kind of felonious fraud goes on inside families (and I too know for a fact that it goes on) and affinity groups, and someone would have to admit to a felony to uncover it, there is little way to even study how prevalent it really is. This type of fraud cannot happen to any significant degree in an election carried out in a polling place because people are observed in the voting process so that it would be obvious, and be prevented if I signed the book, and illegally gave my ballot to someone else or took them into the booth with me.

    Now, your last statement on which your support for VBM hinges is at best subject to argument. It is clear that so far VBM has not meaningfully increased voter turnout, and it seems to be unknown whether it has increased INFORMED voter turnout. So I'll throw the challenge out to people like Anne who so far have done such an exceedingly poor job of defending their support for VBM on any basis except an "appeal to emotion":

    Why is it a good for the democracy to have a system in which 1) you send a strong message that you don't really care about voting fraud and abuse because you are unconcerned (or even defend) the manifest opportunities VBM offers because it happens "between friends and family members", and 2) candidates spend the last two weeks of the campaign playing numbers games tracking who voted rather than concentrating on delivering a message to cement their bond as a leader with the electorate, in trade for at best marginally increasing the turnout of people who might not have voted because they wouldn't put great enough value on voting to do what it takes two days every two years to get to the polls?

    (I also think it is interesting that so far, few of the "name" Blue Oregon contributors have not weighed in one way or the other in this argument. Hardly the kind of brave local opinion leadership to which average folks respond, or which will be needed if the Dems are to retake either chamber of Congress.)

  • (Show?)

    It is clear that so far VBM has not meaningfully increased voter turnout...

    I disagree with that statement. Here's the apples-to-apples comparison in general elections:

    In 1996, voter participation was 71.3 percent; in 2000, it was 79.8 percent; in 2004 it was 86.5 percent.

    In 1998, voter participation was 59.02 percent versus 69.2 percent in 2002.

    Although the 2000 primary had comparable returns to previous years with regard to voter participation, participation in 2002 and 2004 was roughly 7 percent higher than earlier years. Also, poor participation in primaries can be explained by the exclusion of NAV's from casting meaningful ballots in Oregon.

    There may be some comparative data that casts this in a different light, but it's hard to see how you can look at the raw data and suggest that VBM hasn't played a significant role in increasing voter turnout in Oregon.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    sjp - You are not making an apples-to-apples comparison. You have to understand control for how people would vote in the absence of VBM including for other factors that could have actually accounted for increases in turnout.

    If you want some information about some ways how one actually might do that look at:

    From the abstract:

    A majority of respondents indicated that their turnout has not changed since the adoption of vote by mail. However, almost one-third of the respondents reported that the voted more often with vote by mail -- particularly women, the disabled, homemakers, and those aged 26-38 years.

    So the turnout of the majority hasn't changed. If one then controls for those in that one-third which would legitimately have access to alternate voting means because they are either unable to participate in a polling place election, we would be left with those who vote more because they can do so without inconveniencing themselves. What is that number?

    With regard to other factors. Are you so dumb as to argue that VBM was responsible for increased turnout in the first post 9/11 election in 2002 over 1998, rather than national and world events including the two wars started by this administration? Or for the increased voter turnout in the Kerry-Bush race of 2004 over the Gore-Bush race in 2000 over Clinton (re-election)-Dole race 1996 rather than the candidates?

    If you are, here are the national figures just for comparison from

    First percentages of voter participation:


    1992 55.1% 1996 49.1% 2000 51.3% 2004 55.3%

    1994 38.8% 1998 36.4% 2002 37.0%


    1992 84.4% 1996 71.3% 2000 79.8% 2004 86.5%

    1994 68.4% 1998 59.0% 2002 69.1%

    You'll note that national voter participation also showed a trend of increased voting participation for the elections you cited. Further, VBM did not counter the national trend of decreased voting participation for the first presidential election (1992->1996) and non-presidential election (1994->1998) that was entirely conducted by mail.

    An different comparison which also is illuminating is the increase in actual voter registration and votes cast in the general elections:


    1992->1996 +9.2% -7.6% 1996->2000 +7.0% +9.5% 2000->2004 +11.8% +15.2%

    1994->1998 +8.9% -2.3% 1998->2002 +6.4% +9.2%


    1992->1996 +10.5% -6.7% 1996->2000 -0.4% +11.4% 2000->2004 +9.6% +18.2%

    1994->1998 +7.3% -7.5% 1998->2002 -4.7% +11.5%

    Now you have to remember these are averages that aren't controlled for other state-by-state factors that determine tendency to vote. They all show a short term trend of increased voter turnout in the elections you originally cited. And they again show that VBM did not really cause a significant reversal in the national trend towards decreased participation in the first presidential (1992->1996) and non-presidential election (1994->1998) conducted entirely by VBM in Oregon.

    Unfortunately, we don't have census figures to help determine the reason for the declines in registration in Oregon and how to interpret them. We should note that, however, that with VBM only Oregon has a two-week "election day" for the entire population, and that is independent of whether ballots are cast at a polling place rather than by mail. That extended period in which the polls are open quite conceivably be responsible for any possible positive effects of VBM on participation. And whether that is in the end a good effect is something that should be debated on it's own merit, as well as if the same could be accomplished by say, making it mandatory that employers give paid time off for people to vote because it is so important to representative democacy. (Florida and some states have early-voting which the public, but studying the numbers there is for another time).

    So to your claim that "it's hard to see how you can look at the raw data and suggest that VBM hasn't played a significant role in increasing voter turnout in Oregon", I'd reply "only if you are innumerate". (Something that far too many Americans, Northwesteners, Oregonians, and Blue Oregonians seem to actually believe is a virtue). And I say that without any intent of implying anything personal toward you since it is hard to determine if this was a clever invitation for someone to provide some additional facts, or an actual defense of VBM.

    The fact is that the raw data doesn't tell one much at all whether VBM has actually increased turnout, much less whether it has done so significantly. Southwell's study suggests that VBM may have only been a bystander to a trend due to other factors.

    Why doesn't anyone take up the challenge of whether VBM actually increases the quality of the election results in the form of better government?

  • (Show?)

    "With regard to other factors. Are you so dumb as to argue ... "

    "I'd reply "only if you are innumerate". ...

    I'd encourage you to remember that it's pretty easy to disagree with someone without being disagreeable. By way of offering some friendly advice... you'll be more persuasive if you couch your fairly substantive argument in less antagonistic terms.

    It's perfectly reasonable to assume that most people haven't looked at some of the comparative data as closely as you appear to have done-- that need not make someone innumerate. Similarly, one can accept the notion that there are confounding variables in any interpretation of data without assuming that the exclusion of such variables is "dumb".

    In any case, a self-reported increase in participation (coupled with increases in actual turnout) confirms my supposition that VBM increases voter participation, and that the increase is significant (yes, increased participation by a third of the electorate is significant). Whether or not you believe that it does so to a degree that outweighs the problems associated with it is another question.

    With regard to whether it "improves the quality of election results" ... I'm not sure how relevent the question is. Certainly an increase in voter participation is helpful since a double-majority is required for revenue bonds and so forth. Does it mean that voters are better informed? No. But then public outreach during the campaign is only indirectly related to the process by which ballots are cast.

    Yes, VBM changes how candidates communicate with voters for the two week period after ballots have been mailed, but campaign finance laws, and laws regulating candidate participation in the media are much more central to the question of voter education during elections.

  • askquestion1st (unverified)

    sjp -

    Please, sophmoric lectures about "playing nice" are what we do with kids. You also didn't quote the rest of the last statement: "and I say that without any intent of implying anything personal toward you since it is hard to determine if this was a clever invitation for someone to provide some additional facts, or an actual defense of VBM." Posters here seem to have egos far bigger than their ability and this is an example of that, you are much more concerned about the offense to you than understanding the issue as your response is 20% about taking offense, and 80% didactic assertions about the manifest value of VBM in the face of contradictory or absence of evidence.

    Despite what people like to claim, most folks make many of their decisions based on personal values which have nothing to do with reason. The value of challenges such I have made to you is not to convince you of anything, but rather to get information on the record showing VBM supporters in Oregon argue about the virtues of VBM in the absence of evidence so that the rest of the country has the chance of not making the mistake we may have made. (And whether Oregonians believe it is a mistake is quite irrelevant to the fact of whether it is or not with regard to the impact on representative democracy.)

    You seem to have not actually understood Southwell's report. Southwell said that for the majority there is not self-reported change in voting behavior, only for a specific minority. The very data you cite suggests that that even that may be wrong or minor at best because the data doesn't show significant trends. There is a methodological question here whether people when asked will fairly report what amounts to negative behavior about voting and that is why the data matters as a check on the self-reported behavior. The limited selection of data types you offered supports my original claim that VBM does not meaningfully increase voter turnout. You have not precisely claimed the opposite, only that "VBM increases voter participation", but is unclear whether that is because you don't understand these are not strictly opposing claims, or because you are trying to change the actual thesis under discussion to one that you feel scores points for VBM. In any event, the data most certainly does not support your claim in an unambiguous fashion.

    As the cast of clowns we now have in D.C., who were elected by majorities in the applicable jurisdictional breakdowns, proves, the quality of the electoral results in any election most certainly does matter: To survive, a representative democracy depends on an informed and conscientious electorate. I already framed the issue previously and your response completely avoids the difficult questions, only that numbers could matter. As we have learned and continue to learn, Americans are not really that different from people in the rest of the world, out of fear the majority will readily compromise constituional protections and even economic opportunity for what they are duped into believing is security. If VBM does not actually increase participation in a meaningful way, or if the marginal increases in participation do not actually improve the quality of the results in an meaningful way (since we have also seen that just a percentage point or two can matter in an election), what are the good reasons for adopting this system?

    Finally, I have no idea what you mean by your non sequitor and unsupported superficial comments about finance laws and candidate participation in the media. The two-week open voting period interrupts the arc of a campaign, and that arguably requires more resources because candidates have to both message and track who has already voted. It also makes it more difficult to craft a media strategy which has a high level of media exposure for those two weeks. WIth an election day, candidates frame their message and then plan their media exposure to achieve maximum impact that reaches a crescendo on election day. With VBM it's more like candidates trying to cajole voters for two weeks to vote. I can only think of negative reasons why Oregonians might like that kind of fawning by candidates.

    A campaign is like a marathon with the sprint at the end. In addition, there can always be surprises about the qualifications of a candidate right up to the end that should matter to voters. VBM makes it a marathon, with a just slightly faster marathon at the end and good arguments can be made that takes more resources that in no way better inform the electorate. In effect with VBM we endorse a system which condones not informing voters to the maximum extent possible about the qualifications of the candidates they must choose between. And since we do it primarily for "voter convenience", contrary to what you blithely argue it is very relevant if this questionable tradeoff actually improves the quality of electoral results.

    And I haven't even revisited the issue that Anne so vacuously dismissed about the possible importance as community-building secular ritual of the shared experience of young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural, coastal and midwestern people all setting aside the mundane details of their daily lives and turning out regardless of station in life on a single election day in a representative democracy. (And this of course assumes the minority who legitimately can't are afforded the opportunity to vote in whatever manner works for them and still allows them to be part of that shared ritual. It is not been studied, nor is there any obvious argument why a "make it easy for me", consumerist approach to voting is community building or good for representative democracy.

  • (Show?)

    Posters here seem to have egos far bigger than their ability and this is an example of that

    ... and there are those who would do well to take a look in the mirror when making such statements.

    To be clear, I've taken no offense at your comments. I'm simply pointing out that you aren't doing yourself any favors by going out of your way to be rude. Dismissing smart people like Anne Martens as "vacuous", or myself as "sophomoric" for gently pointing out your bad behaviour isn't going to put people in the frame of mind to take you seriously or listen to what you've got to say no matter how cogent or thoughtful you may believe yourself to be. From where I sit, it's a sad sign of dysfunction in an otherwise intelligent (albeit anonymous) person.

    In this case, all I've ever said is that I suspect that VBM increases voter participation and this outweighs some of its problems. If you read the data differently, that's your business. I just disagree.


  • (Show?)

    One reason that voter turnout appears to have increased, on a percentage basis, is that the Secretary of State and elections offices since about 1999 have embarked on a sustained effort to remove "inactive registered voters" from the rolls. This includes anyone who appears to have moved to a different address without re-registering at the new address, even if it is in the same county. One reason to cull "inactives" is that the double-majority on tax measures is calculated on the basis of those considered to be "registered voters" eligible to vote in the election. Coming up with the concept of "inactive registered voter" not eligible to vote resulted in significant reductions in the numbers of eligible voters and a corresponding increase in the percentage of eligible voters who voted. We can check with Anne on the magnitude of the "inactive registered voters" removed from the rolls, but my recollection is that it was about 7-10% of all registered voters.

    This would have increased the percentage of eligible voters who voted, regardless of any change in the method of voting.

  • (Show?)

    Yeah, but Dan.... one reason that the culling of voters would coincide with the introduction of vote-by-mail is that WE NOW SEND BALLOTS TO PEOPLE. If you send ballots to people, and they've moved, then the mail comes back undelivered. That tells you that they've moved, and they're no longer eligible to vote at that address.

    In fact, this is another good reason to support vote-by-mail -- it reduces the voter rolls of people who've left town. That reduces the cost of campaigns, among other things.

  • (Show?)

    Voters are placed in the "inactive" category whenever the elections office receives information that the voter has moved. This can happen when a ballot does not reach its destination but can happen at other times as well.

    Further, I was simply responding to the assertion that VBM increases turnout. I believe that it the reason that the percentage numbers are up is not due to increased voting but to reduced "valid" registration, due to the purge of "inactives" who in fact are simply registered voters who have moved. You may think all this is a good idea, but you cannot use it to claim that VBM increases voting.

  • (Show?)

    BTW, on the whole I do not object to VBM. It has advantages but also disadvantages to polling-place voting. For most people, VBM is more convenient and will lead to more informed voting, because it is like an open book test with no time limit instead of a pop quiz with an implicit time limit.

    Let us recognize, however, that VBM is not perfect. It is certainly less secure than polling place voting could be. It does <u>allow</u> the exercise of undue influence or even coercion upon some voters by their relatives or friends or even their employers, and such coercion is hard to detect and even harder to prove. Absentee voting has the same problems; an employer who would coerce an employee into voting a certain way via VBM could do the same by coercing the employee to request an absentee ballot.

    I do not know of a perfect solution. If absentee voting is allowed, then VBM is not a bad idea. But is has its problems.

  • (Show?)

    It is certainly less secure than polling place voting could be.

    I think we could safely say that it might or could be less secure than polling place voting - but that there's no evidence to go either way.

    Certainly, given the concerns that some have about polling place voting being entirely defrauded by Diebold et al, then VBM makes a heckuva lotta sense.

    As for "single community moment" and the "three weeks of GOTV is too expensive" and "scandal might hit during the three weeks" arguments... I could certainly make a case that we should cut the timeframe down to ten days. Say, mail out on Friday, due back on the Tuesday next. Basically, one week with both weekends attached.

  • LT (unverified)

    People concerned with a scandal breaking at the last minute can deliver their ballot on election day--we often wait until a couple days before election day when County Elections has a drive up tent, unless the weather is really nice and no big deal to get out of the car and take it in to the County Elections Office and drop it into the box. As I understand it, there are lots of drop off points for people who don't want to mail their ballots.

    In the decade before Vote By Mail I don't recall any special community feeling when I voted at the polls. I do recall exit polls and "late hits" (the nasty, inaccurate mailer or radio ad the day before the election) which dried up after Vote by Mail passed. And I know because of research I once did for a term paper that there was once a big argument about whether politicians should appear on radio or TV in the 24 hours before an election. But if there is a "late hit" how else are they to respond?

    Most people are not interested in the theoretical or philisophical debates on Paul's hypotheses, or "Southwell's report" or statistics on whether turnout has increased. They have other things going on in their lives with work, family, etc. Having a debate here is fine, but don't assume that person you pass on the street or in the grocery store really cares about some of those issues. And are you really going to earn votes for your candidates or measures by telling voters that you have decided what they should care about?

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    sjp -

    Actually, I have found your comments to be arrogant and exceptionally rude, as surprising as that may be to you. And despite what you obviously believe, you haven't read the data in a numerate manner. You have simply made unfounded, didactic assertions and thrown in some numbers that lend little support to those assertions to make it look substantive to equally unaware folks. Believe me, I quite understand that you, like a lot of VBM supporters, have your mind made up based on non-rational considerations, and certainly won't let facts which invalidate those considerations get in the way. Sound like someone else we all know?

    Kari -

    Sorry to disabuse you of the value of sending out ballots for this purpose. A lot of jurisdictions send out non-forwardable notification notices which must be returned with a voter signature to accomplish exactly the same roll culling function as sending out ballots. So exactly why is this "another" reason to support VBM?

    Dan Meek -

    I have no intent of being argumentative with you since you have made some very perceptive observations. I do, however, find the comment that VBM "will lead to far more informed voters" puzzling. Although I've heard that claim myself, I have yet to see a formulated hypothesis (ie. a testable definition of "more informed") or work that actually proves that. On the surface of it, I cannot quite see why it would: The type of election doesn't change the information available. And it is hard to determine if people would actually be more informed even if they look up information with the ballot in front of them because it is not clear the information is actually accurate. And in any event, why couldn't they do that with a fascimile ballot before the vote as many jurisdictions sent out at one time?

    Also, to be honest, I can't follow the rationale behind the comment "If absentee voting is allowed, then VBM is not a bad idea". In most jurisidictions with which I have personal experience, absentee voting is considered a necessary but problematic solution for those who can demonstrate an actual need, not just a desire, to vote absentee. It is hard to get an absentee ballot, so on that scenario the numbers are low and the possible detrimental impact on elections is minimized to the extent possible. In the NW, on the other hand, we seemed to have developed a lackadaisical attitude that people can vote absentee because they want to, not because they have a demonstrateable need. Seems to me the key question is not whether VBM is a bad idea, but for many of the reasons you cite and others, why did we not restrict absentee voting to only those who have a demonstrateable need?

    To the readers -

    One thing that is interesting about this discussion is that a lot of arguments in support of VBM really aren't about VBM itself but about benefits that are incidental to VBM. And those arguments seem to in part hinge on a seeming inability to imagine doing things in ways other than folks have experienced here - as if people in other jurisdictions haven't confronted the same issues and found other ways to solve them that doesn't throw in the singificant arguably negative aspects of actually voting by mail. I'd call that a lack of vision and imagination.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    LT - Most people are not interested in the theoretical or philisophical debates on Paul's hypotheses, or "Southwell's report" or statistics on whether turnout has increased.

    Whether they are interested or not doesn't change the truth.

  • supercat (unverified)

    But in every state except New York, they were not verified.

    In Illinois, when I go in to vote, I have to countersign a form pre-printed with a copy of my signature. Forging a signature isn't difficult if one has time to do so, but being able to do so while looking natural is much harder. Using photo IDs would be better still, but even having the election judges watch people sign the forms is better than the security of vote-by-mail.

connect with blueoregon