The False Controversy of Vote by Mail

*Image credit: Chris Phan of himself using a vote-by-mail dropbox (a stamp-free alternative to USPS), via Wikipedia Commons,.

Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order converting California’s November election entirely to vote-by-mail.

It’s a politically controversial decision, almost guaranteed to be contested in the courts.

It has also been described by CNN, Vox, and probably others as making California the first state to automatically send mail-in ballots to all registered voters.

Apparently, these news outlets never heard of Oregon. We’ve been conducting all of our elections this way for 20 years. In fact, one of my next projects is working my way through our spring ballot, which is crammed not only with primary campaigns, but important local issues.

The only thing that’s different about California’s vote-by-mail program is that Newsom did it by executive order. We did it by a voter-approved initiative all the way back in 1998.

I remember that campaign. It was filled with exactly the type of worries we’re hearing today not only about California, but every other jurisdiction that’s considering vote-by-mail.

Apparently none of the people raising these concerns today have ever heard of Oregon, either.

During the run-up to our approval of vote-by-mail, election fraud was a legitimate concern. Vote-by-mail was an untried process, and you could spin lots of scenarios for how it could be abused.

But the fact is that it hasn’t been abused.

Ballot envelopes are bar-coded and tracked until they are opened and counted…just as they’d be under a conventional voting system. Better yet, vote-by-mail requires paper ballots, producing a paper record that makes us secure from the type of computerized tampering feared by other jurisdictions.

Anyone trying to stir up fraud-related fears in other jurisdictions has either never heard of Oregon, or decided to turn a blind eye to us.

In a March 21 editorial, the New York Times found that out of 100 million ballots mailed out since 2000, Oregon had seen a total of a dozen documented cases of fraud.

And we’re no longer the only state using vote by mail. Washington joined us in 2011, as did Colorado in 2013, and Hawaii is now on board, as of this month. Three red states: Utah, North Dakota, and Alaska are moving our direction on a county-by-county or city-by-city basis.

Oppose vote-by-mail if you want—if nothing else, the traditional process does have a bit more pomp and ceremony than sitting at a table with a cup of coffee and pencil scrounged from a remote corner of your desk—but don’t oppose it because you fear fraud.

At best, that’s uninformed.

At worst, it’s disingenuous.

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