DeFazio's Vote-by-mail bellyflop

T.A. Barnhart

Peter DeFazio is a reliable Representative in Congress, someone I am always happy to vote for.  But he's not infallible, and when he gets something wrong, it's usually impressive.  On vote-by-mail, Pete is bellyflopper wrong.

Speaking with Thom Hartmann this morning about the election results and the possibility of open primaries, Pete seemed to place the blame for the 40% turnout on vote-by-mail.  I don't know if that was his intent, but even if it wasn't, he made clear how much he dislikes Oregon's system.  Part of his argument, the part I agree with, is that for some people, the privacy of the polling booth was their safety to vote their free conscience.  He used the example of a controlling or abusive husband; the wife no longer has the sanctity of the polling booth (Yes dear, of course I voted for him).  Also, a point Pete did not make, registered voters who rely on others to help them vote (disabled persons) are at risk of having their ballot stolen.  Research on these two problems is, I think, warranted.  But at this point, there's no evidence to make this an effective argument against vote-by-mail.

The flip side of Pete's argument is that even in a down year, Oregon still has one of the better turnouts nationally.  In 2006[correction: 2004], over 80% of Oregonians voted.  Not only that, we have more than a few moments to ponder our vote.  We have over two weeks.  We can sit with our ballot, our favorite #2 pencil, the Voters Guide, our computer and whatever other tools we want.  We can vote for Candidate A — and then decide, a week later, nope, I want B.  We can take our time, study the ballot measures — of which we may have 18 this year — and mark them down, one-by-one, as we study and decide.  In Oregon, we can deliberate as no other voters are able to do because we have time and space to think through what we are doing — as we vote.

(Also, as a local party activist, our get-out-the-vote efforts work so much better with vote-by-mail.  We have 2-1/2 weeks to get people to mail their ballot rather than a few hours to drag their reluctant, excuse-laden butts to the polls, one by one by one.  Even more, imagine Ohio in 2004 without the huge lines that disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters.)

I miss going to the poll to vote.  I miss the voting booth and the rows of switches, which disappeared long before vote-by-mail.  What I don't miss is rushing out after work on a cold, wet November night.  Apparently many Oregonians don't either.  Even though thousands wait until the last minute, the last-minute rush is nothing like what happens on April 15th.  Vote-by-mail allows Oregonians to be thoughtful and responsible, and it seems to be working quite well.  Listening to Pete talk to Thom, I think his real objection is to Phil Kiesling, who introduced "mandatory" (Pete's term) vote-by-mail and is behind the open primaries initiative.  Pete clearly dislikes Kiesling, accusing him of being afraid to run in a straight-up Democratic primary.  I have no problem with disrespecting Kiesling; he seems to be earning that.  But it's not a good enough reason to oppose either vote-by-mail or open primaries.  The former is a proven civic good, and the latter is just stupid, and it doesn't matter who was behind them.  As American Idol Forrest Gump explained, "Stupid is as stupid does."

  • Karl (unverified)

    As Pete said.. Under our old system anyone who wanted to vote by mail, could. You didn't have to have a "reason". Although it didn't seem to me that Pete "blamed" the low turn out on vote by mail, it sure doesn't seem to have increased it. If it has hurt turn out, it could be because some of the aura of meaning and value has been lost by making voting like paying a bill or something.

    Vote by mail has taken away some of my confidence in the system by making more of the process invisible... and, of course it has made votes coersible. It has also taken away the check of exit polls.

    I believe that the crooks running the system in Ohio would have found another way to disenfranchize voters. They need to clean up their system, as they do in Fla. Here in Oregon we should make the head of elections a non-partisan position to help prevent us from going down that road.

    I believe we should make voting days holidays and provide free transportation to polling stations with private booths.

  • Karl (unverified)

    Ooops, I meant that they need to clean up their system in Fla. too.

  • LT (unverified)

    Anyone who dislikes Vote By Mail should explain why it would have been better in 2000 to have had to stand in line while polling place voters marked their ballots on all those umpteen ballot measures that year (many of which failed). People I knew were thrilled that mail voting allowed them to break up the ballot measure voting and maybe only do 2 or 3 measures at a sitting--with their voter pamphlet and notes or anything else they had spread out on the dining room table.

    As far as voter coercion, a person not secure in their own mail (able to take their mail ballot to the county elections office and vote there or some similar action) has problems which wouldn't be solved by returning to polling place elections (a system where, by the way, no absentee ballots can be counted until the polls are closed). And I never understood why poll books were supposed to be better security than signature check on ballots. (If you don't like the envelope going thru the mail with your signature, most counties have drop off places.)

    As far as open primary, that is open to debate. There are people who think everyone who wants to vote in a primary should register in a party (which might mean in some cases registering for a party, voting, re-registering Indep. from June of that election year until March or so of the next election year, then re-registering again with a party--legal under the current system). There are those who say neither party has 40% of the voters and thus maybe parties should be paying to run primaries instead of taxpayer supported county elections offices.

    In my state rep. district, Democrats have 35%, Republicans have 40.9% and close to 1/4 of the voters in what was once one of the most Republican districts in the state (S. Salem --now the district goes west to Monmouth), and primaries here are a rarity. The last time we had one was for an open seat a few years ago, hard to recall when the last primary was before that.

    If someone presents evidence for their concerns, that would be one thing. But I think vote by mail is a good thing for a number of reasons. And anyone who doesn't like it should explain why the previous system of holding polling places open for less than 30% of the voters while most voters had signed up for absentee ballots was so great a use of resources.

    Some national figure said some years ago "anyone who doesn't want to walk to their polling place...." and got deluged with stories of people who lived miles away from a polling place--in rural areas often miles without sidewalks.

    We have much larger problems (electronic machines with no paper record, the idiotic double majority, etc.) which will not be solved by bashing vote by mail.

  • LT (unverified)

    It has also taken away the check of exit polls.

    As someone who lives in a district where the Democrat lost by 61 votes because Carter conceded early, and as someone who recalls that the phone lines were tied up for hours (maybe until the next day?) when Dan Rather looked into the camera before the polls closed on the W. Coast and said "it is over", I don't buy the Gospel of Exit Polls.

    How are exit polls a representative sample? Have they never been wrong? (ask NH Sen. Swett--ABC some years ago declared him the winner on national television and then had to retract.) Does everyone who stops to do the exit poll tell the truth, the whole truth? How many Oregonians have the experience of being exit polled? Are those who vote absentee not representative of voters, only polling place voters are? Could someone run successful campaign the following election by a strategy done entirely based on exit polls?

  • Stella (unverified)

    Vote-by-male critics all seem to present their arguments in a vacuum.

    They say, for example, that vote-by-male permits abusive husbands to force their wives to vote a particular way. But is there any evidence that this occurs MORE OFTEN than the cases of abusive husbands preventing their wives from going to the polls in the traditional system?

    In a vote-by-mail system, anyone can take the time to educate themselves by reading the voters pamphlet and learning about the candidates from other sources. Not so for polling-place voting. Is there any evidence that MORE votes are influenced by abusive husbands in the vote-by-mail system, than, say, those battered wives who do go to the polls in the traditional system but just vote how their husband told them to because they did not have an opportunity to educate themselves about the candidates?

    If battered wives aren’t any worse off in the vote-by-mail system, then the abusive husband argument never even gets going.

    Vote-by-mail critics argue that the new system eliminates the "civic ritual" aspect of going to your community polling-place and casting a vote. Oregonians can still vote at the elections office, but, OK, I take this as a valid point. But the question remains: Does this disadvantage OUTWEIGH the numerous advantages of vote-by-mail? Vote-by-mail, as we know, boosts turn-out. Is it more important for our democracy that people engage in this “civic ritual,” or that more people vote? Is the “civic ritual” more important, or is it more important to enfranchise the disabled (who often can't get to a polling place) and the working single parent (who doesn't have time to vote on a prescribed date)? Is the “civic ritual” more important, or is a relatively fraud-proof system more important?

    The answers are obvious. I don't understand why we can't talk about political issues without demagoguing them. Vote-by-mail is a public policy choice like any other. It has costs and it has benefits. And it's pretty clear to me that the benefits, in the end, outweigh the costs.

  • Jesse O (unverified)

    And, er the exit polls that showed the Kerry won, and the subsequent academic analysis showing that DieBold stole the election. (sorry -- don't mean to sidetrack the conversation, let's stay focused on VBM and DeFazio).

    But Peter may forget that anyone who wants to vote the old-fashioned way, and use a booth at the elections department, can still do so. I'm pro-choice, and I vote. By mail.

  • Ben Dover (unverified)

    Yeah, like I want to return to the old days of driving to the local elementary school to vote, standing in a long line for an hour and patiently waiting while some other voter is standing in the voting booth way too long since they haven't opened their voting pamphlet until now.

    Leave vote-by-mail alone! It's working!

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    OK, can someone give us a single specific example of the abusive-husband-forcing-his-wife-to-vote-his-way syndrome?

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    You do not have to have your ballot mailed to you at home. You can have your mailing address be other locations, including the elections office. You can then go in, pick it up, and vote it there.

    If someone feels that a person will/might coerce their vote, then they can contact the elections office and have their mailing address changed. I'd recommend having it changed to the elections office so that you can go in, sit at a booth, and vote it there.

    Those who are disabled or need help voting do indeed still come into the polling place, which of course is now the county elections office. When I worked there in 2004, we had numerous people who came in just for that reason. Some were almost blind and couldn't read the ballot. Some weren't all that fluent in English. There was a crew of people-- selected so that there were people from every party helping each individual-- who helped them to vote.

    While our voter turnout was "low" by our standards, it was still higher than other states. When we were complaining this past weekend at the DFO Progressive Leadership Summit, our out-of-state trainers quickly pointed that out. Texas' turnout this past primary election was something like 9%!

    For all those who still want to go to a polling place and vote-- fine, head out to the county elections office. You can vote there. This is especially easy in counties like Multnomah. While yes, there were long lines in 2004, that was because of fire code only allowing a certain number of people in the lobby (that's people being helped, people awaiting ballots printed, and people voting). They've been remodeling the building, and that's different now.

    In those counties where you can't easily get to the elections office, many of us have suggested adding some additional locations for the days leading up to an election. After all, they're needed for than just voting at the location-- they're also needed for those people whose ballot didn't arrive, those who need help voting, etc.

  • CityHallVet (unverified)

    You wrote: "In 2006, over 80% of Oregonians voted."

    Huh? That can't be correct. Peter is correct. Vote by mail is not the panacea its supports tout it to be. We had a workable system when we had both vote by mail (absentee balloting) and the good old fashioned ballot box. Vote by mail has increased the cost of election campaigns and therefore increased the influence of money and special interests over our public policy. On that point alone, it has done great harm!

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    CHV, you're right. i got the wrong number. it was 85%. but that's only according to the Secretary of State's office.

    and you're right, with ballots having to printed and mailed, and then processed on a few machines in each county (ok, Multnomah may have a few more than Benton), rather than having a half-a-dozen or more voting machines in every precinct, of course that will cost more. and if we went to the polls, then the campaigns would surely stop spending on ads until the weekend before, wouldn't they? the influence of money, practically unknown in states who still huddle in the rain and snow for an hour, would disappear along with every other abuse that leads our voters to be among the least responsible and civic-minded in the country.

    btw, what's the snarky sarcasm emoticon?

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    Actually, the only increase ballot-wise is mailing them out. And that's not that big of an increase since most people would probably opt to get it by mail.

    As far as I know, the ballots have always been counted at the county elections office. I know where I'm from, that's the way it always worked. At the end of the day we'd lock up our box and then it would be driven to the county elections office.

    Also, that doesn't take into consideration more election workers when we voted at the polls-- every polling place had to have election workers. Or the cost of all the polling booths for each location, copies of the voter roll, etc.

    It's already been discussed on here how counties like Multnomah have showed the cost of elections has gone down because of vote by mail.

  • CityHallVet (unverified)

    T.A.: I think your year is wrong? Do you mean 2006? or 2004? As far as I know we had 1 statewide election this year - 2006 - and turnout was below 40%. What am I missing?

  • CityHallVet (unverified)

    I did not say it increased the cost of "elections." I said it increased the cost of the election "campaigns" as in the amount raised and spent by the candidates.

  • LT (unverified)

    I said it increased the cost of the election "campaigns" as in the amount raised and spent by the candidates.

    Are the candidates being frugal and watching how they spend their money? Or are they bombarding us with ads of all sorts because that sort of one way campaign is better than actual conversation with voters?

    Somehow I don't see the single factor causation. Does anyone really believe that if we'd had the old fashioned polling place election with the tone of this primary more people would have voted?

    Or would people rather beat up VBM than talk about changing the double majority?

    Voters turned down Measure 46 (honest double majority measure--it was in the title about the power of non-voters) while double majority was in the fine print of Measure 47. It was never discussed as part of 47 that I know of. So how did the voters "speak" on double majority?

    Are the people who don't like VBM going to tell the 757,204 Oregonians who voted in Vote By Mail "you were wrong about mail voting, but please vote for our candidates"?

    As I look at the numbers, No on 60 VBM did not carry a county.

  • Stella (unverified)


    Do you have any evidence to back up your claim? Or should we just take you at your word that candidates have had to raise more money as a result of vote-by-mail?

    (Note: saying that political fundraising has increased in recent years is not evidence that vote-by-mail is a problem, because campaign fundraising has increased across the country in that time. Let's see some proof that VBM is more expensive for candidates than the alternative.)

    (Indeed, I could make an argument that VBM is less expensive for candidates, since they can rely more heavily on a field program, and a two-week-long GOTV effort, rather than needing to dump ALL of their resources into more expensive TV ads. This argument -- also lacking in evidentiary support -- is beside the point, however.)

    Even if evidence to support your claim existed, which it does not, your argument still fails to consider the counterveiling benefits of VBM (increased turnout, a more educated electorate, etc.) See my earlier post in this thread.

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    Nationwide, more money is spent each year on chewing gum than on all political campaigns combined.

    So, what's this about too much money for politics?

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    Voting in Oregon has never been easier, hassle free, with time to look at each candidates's positions, time to figure out if ballot measures are sensible, and I can mark my little black circles at 2:AM if I feel like it.

    Did anyone catch the national news decrying the low voter turn out in New Mexico, or was it Arizona..... stating PAYING citizens to vote is under consideration. Sheeesh.

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    my bad: i did write "2006" and meant "2004". then i replied thinking we were both talking abou 2004.

    but my point remains valid: we have great turnouts become of vote-by-mail. even last week's 40% was a national leader.

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    40%? not 38%? That's the number I've been seeing everywhere else.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    I think vote by mail should be left alone. It's a great service for rural people.

    And by the way, a real urban/rural divide exists on the vote by mail results. In the 19 Counties that are fully in the Second Congressional District, the fourth largest CD in the Country, our voter turnout was much higher than the State average. Two of our Counties were over 70% voter turnout. A total of 6 Counties in the Second CD were over 50% voter turnout. 15 of 19 were over the State average of 38%, and one tied the State average. Only three Counties were below the 38% from the Second CD.

    The three "big Counties" were all below the State average: Multnomah at 35%, Washington at 35%, and Clackamas at 30%. To me this looks like an urban problem.

    What is happening in our urban areas that causes a low vote by mail turnout?

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    Exactly. I was just looking at the numbers, and only two counties had a worse turnout than Multnomah-- Clackamas and Jackson. Two counties tied with us at 35%.

    We have a lot of independent voters here who didn't vote because there wasn't much to vote on-- there were very few contests outside the partisan races.

    We've definitely got to work here in the urban counties to make sure turnout like this never happens again.

    From what I've heard, a big reason why more rural counties had a better turnout is that the people personally knew the candidates. The same was true in the small community I grew up in-- everyone knew the candidate for justice of the peace, constable, etc. And people turned out to make sure they did well, especially if they were in a contested race.

  • LT (unverified)

    Did anyone look at the Marion County turnout? We had a contested state rep. primary, a hotly contested county judicial election, 3 women running for municipal judge, and a hotly contested Salem City Council election.

    And while the Capital City is one of the largest in the state, there were people here who knew (and told their friends about) people they called by first name: Chuck, Paul, Laura, and the 3 women running for municipal judge. Chuck, Paul and Laura won, thanks in part to volunteers and people who had known them for years and spoke up for them. In a county where that sort of local contested election is not the case, we could go back to the old polling place election system and given the tone of the Gov. primary, people might still not have bothered to vote--esp. if they were making a conscious decision to avoid the primary so they could sign a Westlund petition.

    People tend to make a special point of voting if someone they know is on the ballot, whatever form that voting takes.

  • Dylan (unverified)

    I think most of the points have already been covered regarding the debatable effects on turnout and on campaign spending. The only observation that I would like to add to the debate ... is to suggest that Mr. Barnhart's suggestion that Oregonian's are more thoughtful and deliberative because of VBM elections is false. In fact, the academic research that I've read on this topic suggests that voters are less deliberative and MORE partisan. On face, that may seem ridiculous to political geeks like us that read the voters guide from cover to cover, but we are clearly the exception and not the rule.

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    I know plenty of people who aren't political junkies, and they read the voters guide before voting. My husband is one of those-- he is completely uninterested in politics and has to be reminded constantly to vote. However, when he does vote, he sits down with the voters guide and reads about candidates first. He may even do a bit of research online first.

    He never did that during the years he lived in Texas with me. He'd just go to the polls and vote for whoever.

  • LT (unverified)

    In fact, the academic research that I've read on this topic suggests that voters are less deliberative and MORE partisan.

    Dylan, perhaps you can enlighten us about that academic research?

    There are those of us who have taken poli. sci classes AND worked on campaigns and believe the campaign experience had more to do with reality than the poli sci classes---even if the academics would call the campaign experience "anecdotal".

    And does the academic research control for the fact that during the Vote by Mail years this state got so partisan Tom McCall might not have been able to win an election? Or are you saying nothing but VBM caused the polarization? That, for instance, without Vote by Mail all legislators would have been as gracious to each other in the last 10 years as they were back decades ago?

  • Dylan (unverified)

    For the record, I am not an academic and DO have a history in campaigning both for a campaign consulting firm in DC and with a congressional candidate in Oregon. BUT my friends continuously poke fun of reading preferences, as I would prefer to read academic journals and books on game theory over say "The Da Vinci Code". Still a geek at heart.

    I'd be happy to share. The article is entitled, "The Impact of Voting by Mail on Voting Behavior" by Hanmer and Traugett. I think I still have the pdf on my laptop. If someone would like me to send them a copy of the journal article feel free to write me at [email protected] and I'll pass it along. The article does have additional information on residual voting, under/over voting, and down ticket voting. (Which, for the record, show statistically irrelevant effects since the move to VBM.) But the straight ticket voting results is what I was referring to.

    As for LT’s questions, the results deal with the voting behavior and not relationship of individual members in the legislature. I am sorry if I was unclear. And obviously running Tom McCall as a control in different elections is unrealistic. But to the point of the questions … I don’t think there is anything intrinsic about getting a mail ballot that makes one more partisan. It is the ability to target and mobilize voters by parties and ideological groups that is creating this change in voting behavior. Something as a campaigner, I am sure you’ve witnessed. But the authors of the research … myself … and even I suspect LT (don’t mean to put words in your mouth but I don’t think you’ll disagree with me) would agree that VBM elections are still very new and this is a statistical area that needs more studying. But I must say … I think Oregon political parties are becoming progressively better at GOTV mobilization and would suspect that that this trend will continue as we gain more experience voting with this method.

    If people would prefer me to elaborate more on the control … the survey sample … or my history in campaigning … just ask.

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    Traugott's a great scientist. He accepted me into his program at UMich, and I repaid him by deferring for a year, to play in a band. When I tried it again, that was the end of that. :)

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    To those who bemoan our lack of Exit Polls,

    Vote by Mail (VBM) mandates a paper ballot of record. The paper ballot of record allows for a far better verification process than that which is provided by an exit poll. All that is lacking is the will, the method and the legislative impetus to conduct such a verification of the paper record.

    Currently in Oregon, our paper ballots are counted with Optiscanners (courtesy of ES&S & Sequoia) that operate through the use of "trade secret" source code that is only viewable by these private corporations, not any election officials or the public. The tabulated results are then sent to central tabulators that are essentially PC's, that are also running on secret source code.

    Exit polls are a vital check on DRE's and other vapor based voting equipment, but here in Oregon, where we are blessed with paper ballots of record, a better check on the machine tabulated results would be a statewide handcounted random sampling of ballots. Such a test, if designed and executed properly, could verify the election result to within a 1% margin of error. Moreover, such a mandatory, handcounted verification of a random sample would not be dismissed or subjected to the subterfuge we witnessed in 2004 where the exit polls proved (and still prove) that Kerry won 2004.

    Personally I feel the use of secret software for vote counting must be prohibited. A private for-profit corporation asserting contract trade secrecy rights has NO valid right to stand between me and my vote. It is absurd. So that should be our focus for the long run. In the mean time though, since it seems unlikely citizen's rights such as voting and fair and open vote counting will be given their due in an era where we are being wiretapped by our government in blatant violation of the law, we need a check on these machines.

    I hope all Blue Oregon readers will actively participate in a citizen backed effort to establish a mandatory, scientifically designed, statewide, random-sample handcount of a percentage of paper ballots as a routine part of Oregon vote counting procedures in order to verify the machine tallied results of our elections.

    Such a procedure would be better than any exit poll. A good resource for staying up to date on these issues is the Oregon Voter Rights Coalition. Luckily, we have a paper based system that is amenable to such a handcounted verification. We should make the most of these ballots by using them to rigorously test the results put out by machines that are produced and operated (inside) by private corporations.

  • Penny (unverified)

    I'm for choice. Let people who want to vote early request absentee ballots. Let people like me who want to gather their candidate info (LWV, Voter's Pamphlet, glossy & deceptive literature from the campaigns) and make their decisions do it - either with a sample ballot to check and bring to the polls or with an absentee ballot to check and mail in. Let people choose their own preferred method of voting. Stop mandating your way to others. I voted against VBM at the polls and would love the chance to do it again. (indefinite antecedent - could mean wants to vote against VBM again, or could mean wants to vote at the polls again.)

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    that would be ok, Penny, if it didn't cost millions of dollars. in fact, i'd probably vote at the polling booth just for the symbolism of it. that's the part i miss most, but once the big ol' style booth was gone, with it's billions of switches and the big handle you pulled going in and out, well, the thrill was gone.

    VBM, in conjunction with voter-owned elections and instant runoff voting (replacing primaries and allowing party affiliations to remain intact and meaningful), is part of a package of solutions that seems to me our best bet. i haven't seen anything else that works better.

  • LT (unverified)

    Penny, whichever county you lived in when you voted against VBM you were in the minority--it carried all counties.

    TA-- VBM, in conjunction with voter-owned elections and instant runoff voting (replacing primaries and allowing party affiliations to remain intact and meaningful), is part of a package of solutions that seems to me our best bet. i haven't seen anything else that works better.

    I agree with you on everything but instant runoff. "allowing party affiliations to remain intact and meaningful" won't happen unless you can convince people to quit registering in minor parties and NAV and convince a majority (of legislators or voters) to vote in IRV. You're saying Indep. have no right to nominate--they should register in a party if they want to nominate. You have a right to that opinion, just as anyone has the right to argue over VBM or any other issue.

    But until you can convince people who don't follow this stuff regularly that they should make the change to IRV, it won't happen. No one is required to accept IRV without question, just because some people think it is a good idea. In some races, there is only a choice between 2 candidates--Grisham v. Doyle being a great example in 2004. How would IRV work in that situation? Tell people how it would work, don't say "but suppose there had been 3 candidates" as some IRV supporters say.

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    i think people are registering NAV because they do not see the parties representing their interests or because they don't like "partisanship". i don't really care; no matter what the registration is, at some point, a candidate has to earn a vote. and i think that a political party is one very good way to do that, which is why i'm an active Dem. i believe being a Democrat in Oregon means something very good, and the last thing i want is for that to be undermined by Kiesling & Paulus' bizarro notions of non-partisanship.

    IRV would allow us to eliminate primaries and to let all candidates run en masse (and, with VOE, on equal terms, more or less). if there are only 2 candidates, terrific. nice & easy -- but i doubt you'd have only 2 in many races. not in a system that cuts money out of the equation and forced people to run on their records & platforms.

    "You may say I'm a dreamer...."

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    With the record of problems other states' tabulations have, it's incredible to me that VBM still has so many detractors.

    You want a better turnout and a less-turned-off electorate? Put up better candidates. Pass better legislation. And add 'None of the Above' to every race so voters can record 'I reject all of these as substandard.' In the latter case, if 'None' garners a plurality, another election follows with the rejected candidates excluded.

    Neither party has the courage to go for that, however. Which reflects their true concern: they want more people to vote for THEIR candidates. And when they lose, they want to blame it on apathy, not on the anger of voters who feel excluded when they only get to choose Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

  • Dylan (unverified)

    TA ... I think I got a little lost ... why do we need to do both VBM and VOE and IRV as a passage deal? I see as about a much linkage between these issues as ... say lobbying reform and VBM. Do you think they should be linked? Or would you simplily like to see them all passsed? Or would you, in fact, be happy if we just passed (or in the case of VBM kept) one of these options individually?

    As for IRV ... I agree with LT. A cardinal rule of democracy is that all voters have an equal say. Yet instant-runoff voting essentially allows supporters of the least-popular candidates to REcast their vote again once it becomes apparent they are not going to win. Why should one voter be allowed a second bite at the cherry, just because his candidate is unpopular?

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    Dylan, i don't think any one "reform" is good enough. we have VBM, which is very good, but money still rules the day. the Courts have disallowed mandatory spending limits, so limits have to be voluntary; this is one of the beauties of VOE, imo (yay, acrononym city). IRV rounds out the package, getting rid of the primary election and allowing minor candidates a chance to show well. it's a proven system -- i think San Francisco used it recently -- that should give the candidate with the broadest appeal the victory. it's like an MVP award: the winner has the highest total tally, first place votes and second & third. it's rare for the winner to have fewer 1st place votes, but they will always have the most support across the board. how can you get more democratic?

  • LT (unverified)

    Which state has IRV? Just because something has worked at the city level it will work at the state level?

    And again, if it is true that with only 2 choices people could vote one choice for each candidate or 2 votes for one candidate, why don't IRV advocates say so?

    Because "we have this great idea, therefore it will work" is seen as a better strategy than explaining how IRV would work?

    And are you saying the dumb law from 2005 would be overturned and anyone could sign a petition even if they voted in the primary? Or how would Ben Westlund get on the ballot? Would he have not be allowed on the ballot as Indep?

    There I go again, asking implementation questions when IRV advocates don't want to go beyond "isn't IRV great!?

  • Dylan (unverified)

    Before I get into answering TA response ... let me answer TL's first question to TA. Yes ... San Francisco has it. But I think Vermont has it too ... but they're all based of the Irish National Model. At least I think.

    As for TA ... the problem I see with linking this bills for you is they all have different reasons to support them. And in some cases the argument for passing something like VOE (getting the money out of campaigning) works against you in VBM (which is increasing the cost of elections) by requiring a sustained media drive over the last month.(yes ... I know disagree with that ... I was reading the comments in order.) But you must admit that this makes the issues muddled when you combine them and ... in the end ... makes them harder to pass.

    As for the analogy, it is my understand that with IRV, you vote for your choices in numerical order but unlike an MVP race it doesn't give a numerical value to the different choices (1st is 5 points, 2nd is 3 points or 3rd is one point ... like an MVP race). Rather ... under the IRL system, the computer eliminates the candidate with the fewest votes, and then switches his votes to his number 2 selection and recasts his vote for them. If those fresh votes still do not put any candidate over 50% of the vote, the process is repeated, each time eliminating the low vote-getter and redistributing their votes to lesser candidates until someone gets a majority. In my opinion ... this violates the democratic principal of one person one vote.

    Pretty soon will have a BCS system for selecting a winner ... with computer simulating ranks ... and preferences given to Multnomah County preferences over other counties. :)

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    Thanks for the post. I seem to spend all my time these days correcting factual errors by both the supporters and the critics of voting by mail.

    DeFazio is wrong, as are others who attribute lower turnout in 2006 to vbm. It may be due to vbm, but is much more likely due to voter apathy and disaffection. What most election reformers don't seem to realize is that the vast, vast, VAST majority of turnout is not affected by mechanical or administrative barriers to voting, but by individual political attitudes and beliefs. If you want to increase political participation, make people care more about politics.

    That being said ...

    Stella wrote: In a vote-by-mail system, anyone can take the time to educate themselves by reading the voters pamphlet and learning about the candidates from other sources. Not so for polling-place voting

    False. You can take just as much time perusing a voter guide before you get to the polling place as using voting by mail.

    LT wrote: As far as voter coercion, a person not secure in their own mail (able to take their mail ballot to the county elections office and vote there or some similar action) has problems which wouldn't be solved by returning to polling place elections and Stella wrote Is there any evidence that MORE votes are influenced by abusive husbands in the vote-by-mail system, than, say, those battered wives who do go to the polls in the traditional system but just vote how their husband told them

    Unreasonable arguments. We do not have evidence of more coercion under vbm. This we DO know. Voting by mail removes the privacy of the polling place. So if you believe coercion MAY occur then voting by mail surely makes it much easier.

    CityHallVet wrote: Vote by mail has increased the cost of election campaigns

    True Every candidate and campaign official I have talked to confirms this, because vbm and other early voting systems require up to two weeks of GOTV efforts. But wait, Professor Gronke has a solution: make the records of early voting cheaply and conveniently available to EVERY candidate from the state (rather than making them available only county by county and for sometimes high cost).

    NOTE: Oregon does a VERY GOOD job on these grounds. Other states with high levels of early voting do a lousy job.

    Last point: the alternative to voting by mail that is advancing in many states is dispersed early voting centers ("in person" early voting). Those who strongly advocate for vbm might want to consider why this system does not have many of the advantages of vbm without some of its disadvantages.

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    For those who want to vote at the "polls" (now known as the county elections office), call up the elections office and see if you can have it changed so that your mailing address is the county elections office (I don't know for sure they'd let you do it-- but it doesn't hurt to ask). Then they do not mail your ballot to you-- it would be waiting at the elections office. You can then go in, get your ballot, and sit there at a booth and vote.

    Of course you can also bring in your mailed ballot and vote it at the elections office-- many people do.

    There's also nothing to stop people from holding voting parties in their neighborhood. Get a location and have it set up so people can sit there and vote with some space between them and the next person. You don't have to have the cardboard "booths"-- my precinct never did, they just spread out people at long tables.

    Have someone there who is a parlamentarian of sorts-- the person will keep people quiet, stop those who are trying to harass others, etc. A great place to do this would be the library, since they'll already have a drop location.

    I've been thinking about this over the past few days, and I may just do that here in Multnomah County. I think it would be great to have the meeting rooms in our libraries set up as a voting room on election day. Those who want to come in and do the whole voting thing can. And right there is a locked, official ballot drop off box.

    And maybe at some point that can be expanded so that there could be a "mobile elections office" on the west side of the river, eastern Portland (the 122nd library would work great), and the Gresham area. There'd be a computer hooked into the voter database, label printer for printing the labels, and copies of the ballots and envelopes. Then everyone doesn't have to head to the county elections office on elections day.

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    One issue affecting low turnout -- and I was surprised not to see this mentioned in the Oregonian's above the fold, cover story last week -- is that a lot of voters were registered by America Coming Together and other groups for the 2004 Presidential race.

    These hard to motivate voters are still on the rolls. Turnout as a percentage is going to be lower since these "deadbeat" voters are still counted in the elligible voter pool despite their likelihood of turning out.

    Certainly not the only reason for lower turnout, but seems at least something of a contributor.

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    It wasn't just the percentages that were down-- it was the actual number of voters as well.

    Multnomah County-- 2002: 162,444 2004: 164,635 2006: 133,400

    Statewide-- 2002: 853,175 2004: 856,482 2006: 749,967

  • Karl (unverified)

    I still believe that making election day a holiday, and providing free transportation would increase participation and interest and belief in the value of voting. (Of course I understand that better and clearer choices are probably more important.)

  • LT (unverified)

    Karl, Who would provide the free transportation? I drove people to the polls a few decades ago, and it was a logistical nightmare getting people to call the central office, getting directions, picking up the voter, transporting them to the polling place and back. And gas was a lot cheaper back then.

  • Karl (unverified)

    Ginny Ross, Thank you for explaining what i should have known...How our system works and how vulnerable it is. It's hard to believe that there is no check on the secretly tallied machine results. For people to believe that their vote has meaning they have to believe that the results can't be messed with.

  • Bob (unverified)

    Vote by mail is more prone to fraud. Why do you want to make voting easier for those unwilling to make any effort?

  • Gentry Lange (unverified)

    I have been doing exstensive work opposing all Vote By Mail and Touchscreens in King County. For anyone intersested, I have put an article with many links, and all my current research online. For those of you that want to know why those of us opposed to this system are opposed.

    Vote by Mail, and Diebold... All your Votes are Belong to Us.


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