Nonfiction Articles & Essays:
September, 2013: In too many American states, the one-day, on-site voting process is antiquated and harmful to voters. In high-attendance election years, such as general elections (when presidents are voted into office), the increased voter turnout creates long lines that often wrap around voting centers for blocks. As a result, voters bear the burden of inclement weather, stalled traffic, scheduling conflicts with work and their children's school and day care, and more, as they struggle to make it to the ballot box in time. There are many easier ways to vote, but not enough states have made the effort to ease voter's struggles. One easy-peasy solution is the vote-by-mail process. Currently, only two states have a 100% vote-by-mail system: Oregon (since 1998) and Washington (since 2011).
The vote-by-mail system is similar to the mail-in absentee ballot process. All of the states have an absentee ballot system. However, these are usually reserved for voters who work or live overseas (such as military personnel) or who have a documented illness or injury and cannot travel to vote (Fitzgerald). The vote-by-mail system works in a similar fashion. First, registered voters receive a ballot in the mail, and then they mail back their ballots ("Vote by Mail"; "Voting in Oregon"). Unfortunately, only 28 states allow for some type of "no excuse" absentee vote-by-mail. However, unlike the 21 states that require documented proof as to why one needs an absentee ballot (such as Alabama, Connecticut, and New Hampshire), a 100% vote-by-mail system is the only system used ("Absentee and Early Voting"). So, since Oregon and Washington have a 100% vote-by-mail system, voters have the luxury of voting from the comfort of their home, and the most strenuous thing they have to do is go to their mailbox to send in a ballot.
Of course, not everyone in the country thinks that vote-by-mail is safe, effective, or reliable. In fact, 33 states have enacted much stricter voting laws known as "voter ID laws." In these states, a voter must use an approved form of photo ID. The push for more voter ID laws has mostly come from Republican party members, and it has stirred up a lot of controversy. As a result, the debate over whether voter fraud is really an issue has turned into a hot bi-partisan battle. These new laws require voters to register to vote and also acquire the "right" ID in often confusing and difficult ways (Bingham; Mayer).
For example, to vote in some states such as Texas, citizens must produce both an approved ID with a photo on it and their voter registration card (see Texas Voter Registration Card image). If any citizen who is eligible to vote does not have the proper ID (see "Table One)," he or she must now find a way to obtain one of those items. Many of these photo IDs are not free, so there is an extra financial cost to the voter, as well as time lost traveling to get the IDs, possibly losing time from work, etc. ("Election Identification").
Or, a Texas voter may opt to find a way to travel to a Department of Public Safety's Drivers License Division and obtain another form of voter photo ID which is the Texas election identification certificate (EIC) ("Election Identification").
|Texas Approved Photo ID:
(one of the following)
|· TX driver's license: Cost: $25.00
· TX personal identification card: Cost: $6.00 - $16.00
· TX concealed handgun license: Cost: Citizen $140;
Military Personnel $0
· U.S. passport book or card: Cost: $165.00
· U.S. Military identification card with photo:
· U.S. Citizenship Certificate or
Certificate of Naturalization card Cost: varies
|Sources cited: "Drivers License Fees"; "Texas Concealed"; "Passport Fees"|
Another impediment is that Texas is the second largest state in the union (268,580 square miles), and each county has only one department where the public can go to obtain this identification ("Counties Issuing"; "US States"). So, for elderly or poor voters in the many large rural counties, this department may be too far away and too difficult to, especially if they do not own a car or cannot drive.
To acquire an approved photo ID card from "Table One," one must have the proper ID. These may include a social security card, certified birth certificate, etc. But, if a voter does not have these forms of documentation (e.g., they are lost, stolen, never issued, etc.), then the voter has to apply for them, and spend money to obtain the documents. However, to avoid some unnecessary costs, a sharp-eyed voter might be able to see the small print at the bottom of the Texas Election Identification Certificate PDF, which states: "Disclosure of your social security account number is mandatory for driver license applicants, but voluntary for identification card and election identification certificate applicants" ("Voter Registration"; "Application"). A small favor in very small print.
Of course, that sounds easy, but confused voters need to pay attention to ALL the rules in Texas or else they may not be able to vote come Election Day. One important rule is that voters must register to vote in Texas FIRST before any voter can get the Texas EIC. To register to vote, you need a driver's license or a Texas personal identification card. Or you need to submit your social security number online or at one of the county departments. So, technically, you do need to submit your social security number to get the Texas EIC because if you are not registered to vote -- then you cannot apply for a free EIC.
So, a perplexed voter might ask: "Why do I need the Texas Election Identification Certificate if I already have the other two forms of approved ID?" You don't. The EIC is for those who want to vote, but who do not have any other photo ID.
If a voter lives in a state where voting ID laws have developed into cumbersome, confusing monolithic and expensive processes, or if you are simply weary of standing in line on-site to vote, then you do have an option to avoid these hassles: you can move to Oregon or Washington.
|Texas Voter Registration Card|
|Source: Travis County, Texas
|Texas Election Identification Certificate (EIC)|
|Source: Texas Department of Public Safety
The Plus Side to Registering and Voting in Oregon and Washington:
Registering: Voters need to register with a signed application, but the voter does not have to appear in person because the application can be mailed in.
Registering: If a citizen does not have a driver's license, passport, etc., then all a voter has to do is provide the last four digits of his or her social security number.
Voting: If voters are unsure about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) or if they are running late on getting their ballots into the mail, they have the option of dropping their ballots off at official drop boxes ("Oregon Voter Registration Card"; "Vote by Mail").
So, in these two states, when ballots come in, each county validates each voter's ballot by comparing the oath signature on the voter's outer envelope with the voter's application signature that the voter registration department has on file. As proof of how effective this process is, in 2012 Oregon ranked sixth in voter participation (62% turnout), while Washington ranked second in voter turnout in 2010 ("Absentee and Early Voting"; Terry; "Voter Turnout.").
The following tables are a break down of some of the pros and cons of vote-by-mail in Oregon (some if not all apply to Washington as well).
|Oregon Vote-by-Mail - The Pros:|
|· Cheaper: 30% less than the cost of maintaining polling sites
· Ballots: Read by optical scan machines
· Paper Ballot: Constitues a paper-trail
· Helps Maintain: Higher voter turn out
· User-friendly: Ballots arrive two weeks prior to Election Day
· Easy Delivery: Voters can mail in ballots or drop them off at drop boxes
· No Lines: Voters do not have to stand in line, rush to polls near home, etc.
· More Review Time: More time to consider the candidates, bills, measures, etc.
· Improves Voter Roll Maintenance: Returned ballots improves efficiency of updating voter rolls
· Improves Monitoring: Campaigns can monitor voter participation and improve voter outreach
|Sources cited: "Vote by Mail"; "Voting in Oregon"|
|Oregon Vote-by-Mail - The Cons:|
· No Unified DB: The voter registration database is not tied into a unified database such as accessing the Post Office's change of address data and the Division of Motor Vehicles registration information. Doing so would give more accurate voter roll updates.
· Limited Voter Demographic: Voters tend to be "white, more affluent, better educated, older and longer in residence." So, minorities who may move around more and not registered their new addresses as often, may miss out on voting.
· Registration Limits: No same day registration.
· ID Requirement: Need a driver's license to register online.
· Some Cost to Voter: Ballots are not pre-paid and voter needs a stamp.
· Lost Mail Risk: There are rumors that the USPS loses 3-5% lost mail per year, but no statistics are available since the USPS does not publish this information
|Sources cited: "Vote by Mail"; "Voting in Oregon"|
|Oregon Voting Safety Measures:|
|· Signature Security: Signature verification prior to vote count is a safeguard against fraud
· No Mail Forwarding: Recipients' ballots cannot be forwarded by the Post Office
· Bar Code Control: Ballot envelopes have a unique bar code
· Camera Monitoring: Cameras in place in every election office to monitor counting
· Online Monitoring for Voters: Voters can check online whether their vote has been counted which can help avoid any kind of misuse of ballots such as ballot stuffing. Ballot stuffing is the misappropriation of ballots intended for someone else and used in large numbers to change voting results.
|Sources cited: Bradbury; Thompson|
Of course, as stated earlier, many critics claim that when it comes to vote-by-mail, there are concerns that one's ballot may get lost, faked (ballot stuffing), damaged, or stolen. Then again, critics also claim that the reason for voter ID laws is that there is a risk that there are risks of polling site fraud (Bingham). For those naysayers, it does not appear that there is an easy way to soothe those troubled waters, despite Oregon and Washington's high success rates.
However, with more and more Americans learning how convenient it is to shop online, work from home, etc., the appeal to vote-by-mail must trigger some envy in voters who do not live in Oregon and Washington. So, the next time you have to fight your way through traffic to get to the polls on time or stand in a long line in the freezing rain, think about a voter in Oregon who earlier in the week strolled down to his mailbox, deposited his ballot, brushed his hands, waved to his neighbor, and went back inside his home to a nice warm cup of cocoa.
Perhaps the time has come to nudge your federal and state representatives to enact more convenient ways to vote. After all, what is easier than licking an envelope and sticking on a stamp so you can cast a ballot?
Vote-by-mail for all . . . here we come!
"Absentee and Early Voting." National Conference of State Legislatures. National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 May 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/absentee-and-early-voting.aspx>.
"Application For Texas Election Identification Certificate." Texas Department of Public Safety. Texas Department of Public Safety, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/internetforms/forms/DL-14C.pdf>.
Bingham, Amy. "Voter Fraud: Non-Existent Problem or Election-Threatening Epidemic?" ABC News. ABC News Network, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/voter-fraud-real-rare/story?id=17213376>.
Bradbury, Bill. "Vote-by-Mail: The Real Winner Is Democracy." The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 1 Jan. 2005. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40032-2004Dec31.html>.
"Counties Issuing Election Identification Certificates." Texas Department of Public Safety. Texas Department of Public Safety, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. <http://www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/documents/EICCountyrun.pdf>.
"Driver License Fees." Texas Department of Public Safety. Texas Department of Public Safety, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/DriverLicense/fees.htm>.
"Election Identification Certificate (EIC)." Texas Department of Public Safety. Texas Department of Public Safety, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/electionID.htm>.
Fitzgerald, Sandy. "Military Absentee Ballots Not Always Counted." Newsmax. Newsmax Media, Inc., 26 June 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.newsmax.com/US/absentee-ballots-military/2012/06/26/id/443513>.
Mayer, Jane. "The Voter-Fraud Myth." The New Yorker. Condé Nast, 29 Oct. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/29/121029fa_fact_mayer>.
"Oregon Voter Registration Card." Oregon Secretary of State. Oregon Secretary of State, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 201. <http://sos.oregon.gov/elections/Documents/500%20forms/SEL500.pdf>.
"Passport Fees." Travel.State.Gov. U.S. Department of State, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://travel.state.gov/passport/fees/fees_837.html>.
Terry, Allison. "Voter Turnout: The 6 States That Rank Highest, and Why." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 06 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2013<. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Elections/2012/1106/Voter-turnout-the-6-states-that-rank-highest-and-why/Oregon>.
"Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHL) Fee Table." Texas Department of Public Safety. Texas Department of Public Safety, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.dps.texas.gov/RSD/CHL/documents/CHLFeeSchedule.pdf>.
Thompson, Janice. "Improving Voter Participation: Oregon Challenges and Opportunities." Oregon Common Cause. Common Cause, 1 Aug. 2009. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=5352389>.
"Vote by Mail." Office of Secretary of State. Washington Secretary of State, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <https://wei.sos.wa.gov/agency/osos/en/voters/Pages/vote_by_mail.aspx>.
"Voter Registration." Travis County. Travis County Tax Office, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.traviscountytax.org/goVotersRegistration.dof>.
"Voter Turnout." United States Elections Project. Department of Public and International Affairs George Mason University, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://elections.gmu.edu/voter_turnout.htm>.
"US States: Area and Ranking." EnchantedLearning.com. EnchantedLearning.com, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <http://www.enchantedlearning.com/usa/states/area.shtml>.
"Voting in Oregon." Oregon Secretary of State. Oregon Secretary of State, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://sos.oregon.gov/voting/Pages/voteinor.aspx>.
Author: R.j. hOylE
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