Down the Ballot

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vote By Mail News

Vote By Mail is back in the news again, this time from the Palm Springs area of California in an article by Erica Felci of the Desert Sun. She writes about the growing number of residents in her local area who are turning to voting by mail only. For a time in California one could only have voted absentee if they signed an affidavit saying they would not be in town on election day. The state recently removed that requirement and now more and more people are voting by mail as a choice. In the article she interviews a few members of academia on if Vote by Mail improves turnout during elections.
The big question is whether such efforts make a difference with the average voter. In 1998, Oregon became the first state in the nation to shift to conduct every election by mail. Advocates say it has saved Oregon taxpayers money, and increased the state's voter participation because people have more time to study the issues and make a choice. A 2007 analysis of California's voting behavior indicates that may not hold true everywhere. The study, led by professors at Temple University and the University of California, San Diego, found voting by mail boosted participation in local elections. But when it came to presidential and gubernatorial general elections, voter participation was slightly lower in mail precincts. Voters were also more likely to skip the so-called downballot races. “Based on our findings from this natural experiment, we predict that shifting to mail ballot elections will not increase voter participation in regularly scheduled general elections, counter to the conventional wisdom that is often cited in the current policy debate,” the authors wrote. “In fact, it may produce a decline in turnout of up to three percentage points.”

Yes, you heard some academics produced a study where they say VBM (Vote by Mail) either marginally or does not improve turn out. It may even produce a drop? I am not sure I follow their reasoning on why by simply changing the method of voting would cause people not to vote, I mean if Oregon changed the way we voted I'm sure there would be a decline for a period while voters adjusted to the new system.

Pay attention to this line: “Based on our findings from this natural experiment, we predict that shifting to mail ballot elections will not increase voter participation in regularly scheduled general elections, counter to the conventional wisdom that is often cited in the current policy debate,”...Perhaps the conventional wisdom of the current debate is wrong. I don't think it is wise to move to vote by mail because it might increase voter turnout. I think it is wise to move to vote by mail to make it more convenient for the voter to vote and participate in democracy. The only thing that motivates voters to the polls is what who is on the ballot; not the actual ballot. People who don't feel there isn't anything worth voting for are still not going to vote regardless of the method the votes are taken and counted.

VBM to me still seems well worth pursuing, even at the federal level. Campaigns of all kinds should love VBM, because it allows organizations to have better get out the vote efforts (GOTV) that target households that have not voted yet. If we used Palm Springs as an example, the article states that of the +/-22,000 voters, nearly +/-13,000 are on the VBM system. Some +/-6,000 have already voted. That's 6,000 voters your campaign doesn't need to worry about contacting to get them to vote, that's 6,000 more doors, phone calls, direct mailings you can send to the people who haven't voted in your area. I rarely get phone calls during the last two weeks of any campaign because I turn in my ballot early and get taken off the call lists. So it is sorta a win-win for voters and campaigns. Voters don't get bothered at the dinner table to calls reminding you to vote and campaigns can better focus their ground game on the people they need to still vote.

For folks who don't stay up to speed, minute by minute with the changing political atmosphere through their twitter accounts, VBM provides a pressure free alternative to the voting booth. Need a day our two to go over your choices, then take it. This is perfect for local elections. I find these decisions the hardest. Sometimes there is very little information provided by any of the campaigns and so you do some research. I vote on my time, in the two week period provided. I don't have to miss work, don't have to choose between my family and going to the polls, don't have to fight the weather (that's the postal workers job...they took an oath!). Voting in comfort.

Those are the two big reasons to me that VBM should be taking off more around the country. Voters will adapt as well as the campaigns that are trying to get them to vote. Why can't government ever do something just to be nice to the public? Why does it have to show that it improves turnout? What do you think of vote by mail?

If you want to learn more about Vote By Mail check out the Vote By Mail Project.

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