Project Vote has issued a policy brief on non-precinct place voting.
It’s a nice summary document, and I’m happy, of course, to see that they cite a number of my own pieces on the subject.
On their recommendations:
- I disagree with recommendation 3 (provide for immediate tabulation as ballots are received).
I don’t think recommendation 3 is necessary. As long as states provide for processing of the ballot envelopes up to the time of counting, it should not slow down the ballot count if the actual ballots are not run until 12:01 AM on election day. There is simply too much possibility for mischief if you allow actual ballot counting before election day.
- I would broaden recommendation 6 (establish strong relationships with the USPS and university and school administrators)
The authors are correct to identify large residential facilities, such as those at colleges and universities, as problematic for voting by mail systems. However, they ignore another increasingly important category–nursing homes and independent living facilities. Elections officials must build relationships with all large residential facility operators in their jurisdiction to make sure that ballots are delivered in a timely basis and to the right citizen.
- I agree with recommendations 7 and 9 (states must regulate who can deliver and return ballots)
On our website, you can find a picture of a “ballot box” that was established by ACT in the 2004 election as a “drop site” for ballots. Prior to legal changes in 2005, Oregon placed few limits on who could pick up and deliver ballots. Unfortunately, politicians in the legislature still did not regulate themselves, and candidates and party organizations can still pick up and deliver the ballot in Oregon. This should not be allowed–only the individual voter or a designated family member or representative should be able to deliver the ballot.
- I strongly endorse recommendation 11 (provide public access to the names of voters who have already cast a ballot)
If my work accomplishes nothing else, I’ll be happy if it accomplishes this. It is vital that states provide easy and inexpensive (free?) access to the lists of voters who have already cast their ballot. Doing this will level the campaign playing field, it will allow parties and candidates to more efficiently target voters, and it will improve the voting experience for citizens. In an age of cheap and efficient electronic data storage, there is absolutely no reason not to make this information readily available–yet few states do so. If states have questions about how to make this happen, just drop me a line at email@example.com. We can help you make this happen.
Two final points:
The authors describe VBM elections as a “Western phenomenon,” which is generally true, but we cannot forget Kansas, one of the earliest adopters of permanent no-excuse absentee balloting, or Iowa, which was an early adopter of no-excuse absentee balloting and shows high rates of non-precinct place voting.
They laud Washington’s implementation of voting by mail, and I’d agree. One thing they don’t mention is that some (but not all) Washington counties have purchased a point to point ballot tracking system that relies on the USPS planet codes. This provides a mechanism for voters to track their ballot at every stage. Finally, Washington has adopted a ballot envelope system that hides the signature while in transit, unlike Oregon, where you can still see the signature. (It’s entertaining, from my vantage point, to watch Oregon and Washington compete for the best administered elections system. I think Washington has the lead right now–although 2008 will tell–but I expect Oregon will adopt some of Washington’s innovations.)