Support for a vote by mail election system in Idaho that is secure, accurate, recountable, and accessible with particular focus on measures that address concerns about accessibility and security of voting by mail.
This position was adopted in May of 2009.
The League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) Position on Citizen’s Right to Vote that was announced in March 1982 states “The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed.” At the 2004 Convention,
The League determined that in order to ensure integrity and voter confidence in elections, the LWVUS supports the implementation of voting systems and procedures that are secure, accurate, recountable, and accessible. State and local Leagues may support a particular voting system appropriate to their area, but should evaluate them based on the “secure, accurate, recountable and accessible” criteria. (LWVUS “Impact on Issues 2006-2008: A Guide to Public Policy Positions.” 2007, p. 11)
In 2007, legislation was introduced into the Idaho Legislature to adopt a new section of Idaho Code that would allow the Board of County Commissioners to designate all elections within the county to be conducted by an all-mail system. The League of Women Voters of Idaho (LWVID) was asked to be a supporter of the legislation.
n its study of vote by mail, LWVID looked at the many aspects of vote by mail including security, accuracy, recountability, and accessibility of this type of voting system.
Five issues were not pertinent to the criteria listed above but are of general interest. These are:
- It is factually evident from the Oregon and Washington State experiences that voter turnout is increased by the Vote by Mail process, especially in low profile elections such as school board, library or highway district elections. Nine counties in Idaho currently have designated mail ballot precincts in rural areas as allowed by Idaho Statute 34-308 MAIL BALLOT PRECINCT. The percentage of turnout statewide in the 2006 primary was 52.72% in mail out precincts compared to 28.39% turnout in the rest of those counties.
- Without question, Vote by Mail is simpler and less complicated for election officials who are currently administering two voting systems—absentee balloting and traditional neighborhood polling. Idaho clerks were unanimous in supporting the 2006 legislation to allow vote by mail.
- Whether there would be a cost-saving or a cost increase in an Idaho Vote by Mail process is unknown. Oregon and Washington have both seen a cost-savings, but there is no guarantee that the same would be true for Idaho.
- Any proposed legislation to change the voting system in the state of Idaho would be in compliance with the Idaho Constitution and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA.)
- The right to a secret ballot is stated in the Idaho Constitution, Article VI, Suffrage and Elections, SECTION 1: SECRET BALLOT GUARANTEED. All elections by the people must be by ballot. An absolutely secret ballot is hereby guaranteed, and it shall be the duty of the legislature to enact such laws as shall carry this section into effect. Oregon has not received a single complaint in over 20 years about coercion. In a survey of over 1000 voters in Oregon, only one voter responded that he was forced to vote for a specific candidate. Once the ballot is sent out by the elections office, it is up to the voter to guarantee that the ballot be kept secret rather than the government assure secrecy. The individual voter must be in control of his/her ballot.
The League believes that a Vote by Mail system, if designed and implemented similarly to Oregon and Washington, would be as secure as our present system. With Vote by Mail, every signature would be checked against the recorded signature. Computers would be used to guarantee that duplicate voting is very unlikely. Clerks from Oregon and Washington have indicated that Vote by Mail is less open to tampering. Registration accuracy, up-to-date addresses and postal delivery to the registered voter, and timing of ballots sent/forwarded and returned are all areas that need to be assured. Legislation should include training of election workers to verify signatures on ballots; that election workers check for duplicate voting; but most importantly, when legislation is written to implement Vote by Mail, concerns of keeping the ballots secure throughout the voting process will be addressed.
Oregon and Washington clerks state they have a higher degree of control over processes and checks and balances. Vote by Mail avoids the problem presented by the aging of available poll workers, with accompanying hearing and eyesight loss and resulting errors. The process is simpler for election officials and offers fewer opportunities for error. Voting records are kept more current. If a ballot is returned from the post office as undeliverable, the voter can then be placed on inactive status. The longer period for processing ballots under Vote by Mail enables a more consistent and less hurried handling of unanticipated problems.
Vote by Mail is a paper ballot that election workers can recount. Oregon voters can call to see if their ballot has arrived; a similar provision in Idaho should be implemented. Counting can be watched by anyone who wants to observe under the current system and should be retained.
Every registered voter would receive a ballot under Vote by Mail. Vote by mail makes voting more accessible to voters because the hours and days are not restricted to twelve hours on a Tuesday. The voter has more opportunity to study the ballot with Vote by Mail. Travel and weather issues wouldn’t interfere with voting. There would be no confusion about where people should vote on Election Day. There still needs to be the opportunity for disabled people to vote in person on the special accessible machines.
There is concern that Vote by Mail would make it more difficult for the poor, transient and homeless to vote if they do not have a mailing address. Clerks have already been able to make accommodations for this segment of the population so that they do not become disenfranchised. For the disabled population, the burden of being the cause of long lines would be removed if he/she is able to vote at one’s own speed. If voting locations become fewer and the possibility that some locations will be less handicapped accessible, vote by mail may allow more accessibility for disabled voters.
Registration and voting on Election Day is allowed in Idaho Statute 34-308 MAIL BALLOT PRECINCT and should be retained in any proposed legislation to expand Vote by Mail.
Education of the citizens would be a big responsibility of the election authority. Voters in Oregon and Washington have the opportunity to study ballot issues before voting by using a Voters Guide that is delivered three weeks prior to the deadline to submit the ballot. League would be in a position to help voters understand the new system.