Engaged Citizen Corner
VOTING FROM HOME
League of Women Voters of Brookline
Keeping voters safe is a top priority of the Town of Brookline as it focuses on when, how and where voters will cast their ballots.
In the April 9th issue of the Brookline Tab, the League shared decisions to change Town elections from May 5 to June 9 and to move Town Meeting from May 19-21 to June 23-25, 2020 (and June 30 if needed). The Town is also working on a voting by mail strategy and will be publicizing it extensively to Brookline voters.
Communities across the country are grappling with how to handle upcoming elections. The broader discussion is on the general election November 3 that will decide the presidency and control of Congress and State Houses across the country. The stakes are high – how to get the highest possible turnout while assuring voters of their physical safety as well as the security of the elections.
Although primary calendars can be flexible, changing the November 3rd general election date is not. So, what’s to be done? Ideas include making it easier to vote from home by instituting excuse-free absentee voting and easy access to absentee ballots, expansion of early voting – and vote-by-mail (VBM) as a comprehensive vote-at-home system.
VBM is not a new idea. Oregon and Washington have long histories of this, with research that shows high voter satisfaction and larger turnouts than in-person voting. Even in the midst of the public health crisis in the state of Washington, the March 10th primary turnout appeared on pace for a new state record for a presidential primary, according to Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
The National Council of State Legislators (NCSL) website says that five states currently conduct all elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. At least 21 other states have laws that allow certain local elections, such as school board contests, to be conducted by mail.
The Vote at Home Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) dedicated to ensuring the security of our elections and putting voters' needs first, advocates voting from home and foresees a gradual movement towards all elections being by mail (VBM). [The League of Women Voters is an Institute partner.] Vote at home is a growing trend across red, blue and purple states because it is a time-tested and proven way to bolster the security of elections, improve voter engagement, and reduce election-related costs.
The Institute’s research indicates that in the 2018 midterm about 27% of all 118 million votes were cast by mail and 69% of all votes cast in the West were from mailed-out ballots, from red, purple and blue states. In addition, turnout was over 10 percentage points higher. Its research shows higher levels of voter engagement, including among lower propensity voters (often younger and minority), in primaries, general and local elections.
Voting from home is good for seniors or disabled voters, rural voters far from a polling place, single parents working two jobs, first responders whose schedules can be preempted, etc. Voting by mail relies on paper ballots that cannot be electronically hacked, with a full audit trail. It also saves on poll workers and could centralize and reduce the number of polling place machines needing maintenance or replacement.
Where VBM has been institutionalized, like in Oregon and Washington, all registered voters automatically receive a ballot in the mail. The voter marks the ballot, puts it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve and then into a separate mailing envelope, signs an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope, and returns the package via mail or by dropping it off at designated place(s).
Ballots are mailed out well ahead of Election Day, and thus voters have an “election period,” not just a single day, to vote. While “all-mail elections” means that every registered voter receives a ballot by mail, this does not preclude in-person early voting or on Election Day.
The League of Women Voters is actively engaged in getting Congress to provide the necessary funding to transform our election system to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and to ensure voting remains fair, accessible and safe. This critical election assistance could be used by states to increase vote-by-mail, expand early voting and online registration, and increase the safety of voting-in-person.
The League is a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government and that works to influence public policy through education and advocacy. All articles can be found at bit.ly/2pDSdPa.