By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Mail-in voting is here to stay. But that doesn’t mean it should become routine.

Photo (cc) 2005 by Russ

Voting is a great civic exercise — a community coming-together. Which is why I disagree with the idea that the expansion of mail-in voting implemented this year as a response to the COVID pandemic should be made permanent, as this Boston Globe editorial suggests.

Yes, voting by mail is safe and secure, as none other than Attorney General Bill Barr has conceded. Yes, it should continue to be available for those who need it. And yes, we need to make voting easier.

But there are ways to do that that don’t involve sitting alone in your house and filling out your ballot. Early in-person voting has worked well. Moving Election Day to a Saturday, making it an all-weekend event, making it a holiday — all good ideas.

Voting by mail, though, should be an exception, not the rule.

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  1. Sorry but you are way wrong on mail in/absentee voting – I have been voting absentee/mail in for over 40 ears and Washington State where I live in it is the standard, I now get automatically mailed a ballot several weeks ahead of the election. I can at my leisure fill out the ballot and either mail my ballot or put it in a drop box (I think 4 or 5 drop boxes within 3 miles of where I live) – – no standing in line for 6 or 8 hours like some areas. The county I live in had I think just under 90% voter turnout.

    Simple and easy no drive someplace at a specific time – I really like mail in voting and think we SHOULD MAKE IT EASY TO VOTE – keep in mind that trump mailed in has ballot for decades until this year when he decided to attack our election process to claim mail in was fraud.

    Washington State seems every year has one or two people that mess things up and vote in error, a few years ago a Republican filled out the ballot for his dead wife – he claimed she just wanted to live long enough to vote for the Republican Governor candidate – it is a felony to do what he did but I think got off with a warning and getting his name on the front page of the paper.

    We should have universal no fault / no excuse required absentee voting.

    Pray tell why force someone to go out in the rain at a specific day and time to vote get you other than make it more difficult for some people to vote, especially those that work long hours or a second job or have trouble with transportation? Remember not everyone has a car.

    Mike Brough

    • Dan Kennedy

      Maybe at least pay lip service to my alternative suggestions? We certainly need to move beyond the first Tuesday/regular workday model.

      • Making voting days a holiday is problematic because we don’t have much room for new holidays, and across the nation there are elections somewhere just about every week. And there are no holidays for the mostly young people who work the retail and service industries. Weekends would be an improvement, with the caveat that retail and service employees work all weekend too.

        • Dan Kennedy

          In Massachusetts, we currently have a week or two to vote in person. You’re going to get a couple of days off somewhere in there. At a certain point you have to ask: Do you want to vote or not?

      • If you want to have more polling places and weekend voting – be my guest – I have no issue with your suggestions

        But I also stand by my Universal no fault / no excuse absentee voting, and it should be easy. Research has shown almost no voter fraud except in some peoples minds.

        Also don’t put the voter suppression roadblocks up like needing to have your ballot notarized as noted elsewhere here or the attempt in Georgia to require that a voter have a car registered in the state – both attempts to take away someone’s vote, I find those and other election fraud programs to be disgusting

        Many of the struggles with absentee ballots this year were because states that had absentee voting, the absentee voting had been at a lower rate and suddenly the absentee ballot request was off the charts so to speak and they had to work extra hard with the greater number of ballots, yet the Republicans in some states insisted in making it hard to vote absentee or delaying the counting of absentee ballots so the early counts favored in person ballots.

        Mike Brough

    • Mike Brough, do you happen to know any of the all main-in states audit by publicly hand counting the ballots? Or does everyone mail in their ballots, the counties announce numbers, and who knows what happened in between?

      One of the protections of precinct voting is distributing the count more widely, such that many machines would have to be corrupted to alter the count at the source, not just one or two machines per county. Hand counting mailed ballots would suffice for that, as long as the public gets to watch and check the results against the official results.

      I’m a poll worker, and after elections I make a copy of the in-poll results and check that against what the state posts for my poll. Maybe hardly anyone does that, but we need ways to verify that all ballots are counted and reported accurately.

      • I would expect that Washington State where I live has rigorous checks and audits to help insure an accurate count and there are outside poll watchers during the counting – with two main parties here and some of the races vigorously contested I expect honest counts – the Governors race some years back went to I think three recounts with both sides digging in – it has been many years since I remember any questioning of the count by either side even in close races other than having a recount if things are real close – I think a recount is automatic if the count is close and I don’t remember any challenge to the totals.

        There is a tab that has a number on it so I can see if my ballot was counted. They also contact you in case of a signature miss match – you can then go down with proper ID and fix your signature so your vote will count.

        There is also some sort of provision for people to help notify voters that there was some issue with their ballot – a couple of candidates took advantage of that a few years ago in a close election to help notify voters of a problem with their ballot.

        Mike Brough

      • Bryant

        Mr. Brough explained the verification process well. I’ll add: each county is required to ask the major parties for observers, and may ask other campaigns and organizations at their discretion. The counting process is well-monitored. (King County, where Seattle is located, had webcams this year.)

        Also important and IMHO a plus for vote-by-mail: there’s always a complete paper trail. No arguments about the voting machines getting the vote wrong. Your vote is whatever you put on the paper.

        • Yes, vote by mail is 100% on paper, but actually most people now vote on paper in precincts too. Some districts use machines to mark the ballots, and those should go away.

          My gripe about “paper trails” is that most states make paper ballots too hard to access. By far, most ballots are destroyed 22 months later, having never been seen by anyone but the voters. Now that most ballot scanners perform full bitmap scans of the ballots, why are they not posted online? Some have:

          But I have read that most election officials turn off the option to retain the images at all. It seems they are more interested in finality than transparency. If I lives in an all-mail voting state I would press to have the images posted online. It should be so easy for those central count districts to do that. Only then could you really know the vote is counted and reported accurately.

  2. Steve Ross

    Why? Four states have pretty much 100% mail-in voting with online confirmation voters can check to see if ballot is received, the public likes it, and they all enjoy higher-than-national-average participation rates.

    The process also allows voters to more easily research the names on the ballot before submission.

    Quite aside from that, it has been well documented that voting in person is more easily suppressed, especially by Republicans… although they suppress mail-in votes as well with (for instance) notarization required in some states.

    Saying in-person voting is a good community activity falls far short of your normally laser-like sharpness.

    • Dan Kennedy

      What I am expressing is opinion about what I think is best for civic life. Really not subject to you’re right/you’re wrong.

      • You’re wrong! (half kidding)
        But I agree with Steve here. I think this “best for civic life” thing is in the eye of the beholder (which is why it shouldn’t be a right/wrong thing), but I also think it’s a kind of a Norman Rockwell-ish attitude that has limited participation by people who aren’t privileged enough to vote in person.
        Don’t get me wrong – the whole process of going to the polls on election day, seeing fellow citizens at work at the polls (or working there yourself) is VERY emotionally satisfying for me – much more so than mailing it in. But it does limit civic participation, and that’s why I disagree with you.

  3. Most of the *deminimis* fraud that takes place involves absentee ballots. The Australian ballot method (in-precinct hand marked pre-printed paper ballots, brought to the United States by Massachusetts) is still the gold standard for voting, and two of its features are providing a safe and private place to vote, and eliminating the ability to prove how you voted (to sell your vote or survive coercion). Those protections are not guaranteed outside the polling place.

    But I wonder what the states and counties that vote only by mail would counter with. States like Massachusetts have procedures that make it difficult and seriously risky to commit mail ballot fraud, and all mail-in states like Oregon have ramped up their procedures beyond that.

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