Vote-by-mail cheaper, but advocates have concerns

CTVotersCount is opposed to expansion of main-in-voting including no-excuse absentee voting, primarily for reasons of security and secondarily because it does not deliver on its promise of increased participation.

Today we highlight a comprehensive article covering why vote-by-mail tends to be popular and pleasing to election officials in California, but tends to reduce turnout and raises a variety of concerns from advocates: Cheaper, popular mail-in ballots worry critics <read>

Here are some of the highlights of the article, for those who support expanded mail-in voting for Connecticut, I suggest reading the entire article and considering all the implications:

The increasing shift to vote-by-mail ballots is a positive sign for many election officials. They say it increases voter turnout and is considerably cheaper than the cost counties pay for regular voters. But critics argue the true cost of the system may be higher than reported by its boosters. They also say election officials need to take a closer look at the social costs, such as how the mail-in system affects homeless voter…

Kim Alexander, founder of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit based in Sacramento that encourages voter participation, said that despite its popularity, not enough is known about the effectiveness of mail-in voting. “How many ballots are going out, how many are coming back, how much extra work are they creating for election officials?” Alexander asked.

The vote-by-mail system is supposed to make it easier on election departments by allowing voters to turn in their ballots before Election Day, but a large number of vote-by-mail voters turn in their ballots at the last minute.

In San Francisco, 87,747 ballots were returned before Election Day, and 56,881 were returned on Election Day. In Alameda County, 150,000 vote-by-mail ballots were returned before Election Day and 90,000 on Election Day, according to election officials.

“It takes more time for us to process the ones that come in on Election Day – that just adds to our workload,” said Dave Macdonald, registrar of Alameda County, where the vote-by-mail turnout was more than twice as high as at the polls. “We had a lot of staff after Election Day to process all the vote-by-mail ballots.”…

In a 2005 survey by the California Voter Foundation, 44 percent of non-voters said they were registered to vote – but not at their current address. About one in four said they were eligible but unregistered because they moved around so much that it was difficult to stay registered.

And a report [PDF] published by the Colorado secretary of state found that minorities, young people, singles and divorced people move at significantly above-average rates. Twenty-one percent of people with incomes under $25,000 change residences within one year, compared to 12 percent of people over $100,000. Renters are three times more likely to move.

(UPDATE: A study of vote-by-mail in three California counties found that turnout decreases in presidential and gubernatorial elections but increases in local special elections.)

A Pew Center on the States study [PDF] found that mandatory vote-by-mail systems decrease the odds of someone voting by 13.2 percent, with negative effects on the turnout of urban and minority populations…

“We’re a junk mail society,” he said. “A large percentage of voters don’t realize when it first comes that it’s actually the ballot – especially when every campaign makes it look like the mailers are their official ballots.”

In addition to those hundreds of ballots failing to connect with voters, there’s the issue of vote-by-mail voters – mostly college students in the case of Yolo County – picking up their vote-by-mail ballot from their former residence in a different county and trying to drop it off in Yolo County, where they now live and go to school. Those ballots will not be counted, Stanionis said. And in the Nov. 2 election in his county, there were 58 of those.

Other issues include ballots arriving after Election Day. Out of the 30,000 vote-by-mail ballots in this past Nov. 2 election, the majority were dropped off before Election Day and 4,000 were dropped off on Election Day. But about 1,000 arrived too late.

“Most of those that arrived late are people who put them in a mailbox on Election Day, thinking it was the postmark date,” said Stanionis…

In Riverside County during the June primary, as many as 12,500 ballots arrived too late and were not counted because of communication problems between election officials and the post office, according to news reports. In San Francisco in the June election, a private company that the city’s election department contracted to send out the ballots mailed out thousands of duplicate ballots and ballots with the wrong names.

A current example in Georgia of some absentee ballot fraud allegations: Voting Irregularities Lead To Ten Arrests In South Georgia <read>

Ten people have been arrested in South Georgia following a 5-month investigation into voter fraud. They’re accused of illegally helping people vote by absentee ballot…Those arrested face felony charges for illegally possessing ballots and violating voting procedure. GBI officials say more arrests could be made and more charges filed.

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