The Election Is in the Mail – New York Times

My response to Ruth Goldway’s oped: The Election Is in the Mail – New York Times.

Ironically, perhaps, I am somewhat agnostic on voting by mail. I’ve seen the benefits and experienced some of the costs. It just surprises me how the advocates constantly misdescribe the system (particularly the turnout effects). And might I say, no surprise here that a commissioner of the Postal Rate Commission would argue for voting by mail–it would be a huge boon to the Postal Service, since someone has to pay for all of that mail on election day.


To the Editor:

“The Election Is in the Mail” by Ruth Goldway continues a pattern evident among advocates of voting by mail: overstate the advantages, ignore the problems, and fail to consider the alternatives.

A few facts: voting by mail has not increased turnout in Oregon; by-mail ballots require counting machines, just like any optical scanning system; and volunteer election workers still process the ballots. In terms of security, it is a federal crime to tamper with any ballot, not just a mailed ballot.

Vote by mail does save money compared to “mixed” systems with large numbers of absentee and in-person ballots. Voting by mail is particularly well suited to states like Oregon which have a complex ballot. And voters enjoy the convenience of alternative voting systems.

But there are also costs. While the overall level of election fraud is very low, absentee ballots are the most common target of fraud. When one-third of the voters have cast their ballots a week before election day, they miss a week of news and information.

And, at least for some of us, election day remains a special part of the fabric of our political community, a day when Americans participate in the fundamental act of democracy.

Under voting by mail, election day becomes election weeks, and voting becomes a wholly individualized act. Until we consider such alternatives as a national election day holiday, we should resist using cost, convenience, and popularity as the way we choose our democratic procedures.

Paul Gronke
Early Voting Information Center
Reed College
Portland, OR 97202