Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Elias oped: "Cal ought to give all-mail voting a whirl"

This recent op ed by Tom Elias, who wrote for the Scripps-Howard chain for 15 years before becoming a syndicated columnist in California, trots out some of the standard arguments in favor of all-mail voting, being debated in the California state legislature.

Elias gets some parts of the argument right, but unfortunately, in most parts he is dead wrong and promote misinformation about how by-mail voting operates.

Elias is right about the number one reason pushing by mail voting in CA, as well as in Washington and some other states--with new paper audits being required by many states, and HAVA requirements for disabled access to the ballot, counties are finding it easier and cheaper to go straight to all-mail voting rather than purchasing new electronic voting machines.

But is this a good enough reason to go to all-mail voting? Elias seems to think it is, but interestingly, argues that by mail ballots 'get counted more slowly.'

Not sure where this comes from--there is no lag in election reporting from states with high numbers of absentee ballots, or from Oregon (which uses all by mail) then from states with high levels of precinct voting.

The reason, at least in Oregon, is that the ballots have to arrive on election day, not be postmarked by election day (as Elias seems to believe).

And Elias misrepresents how accurately signatures are checked in by-mail elections. Would any state be satisfied with a "random sampling" of signatures, or would they expect (as they do in Oregon) a check of each ballot signature?

Elias actually gets these points that are favorable toward vote by mail backwards.

On other points, points that he thinks are evidence in favor of vote by mail, Elias once again drives in the wrong direction.

There is no evidence that vote by mail is cheaper--he mistakenly thinks that vote "by mail" means everyone mails their ballot in. For Oregon, the percentage of ballots that arrive by post office delivery can be as low as 60%. The rest are dropped off at satellite locations.

And while it is true that counties don't have to rent polling places, they do need a large staff to verify every signature and do the ballot counting over a longer period of time.

Paper ballots take longer to count (Elias argues) ... therefore more expensive ... yet Elias also argues they are cheaper ... (which is it?)

Finally, he is wrong to believe that the bulk of by-mail ballots would be cast early. In our state, as many as half of the ballots are brought in by voters on election day. This is pretty common knowledge among anyone who knows absentee and "early" voting systems--lots of voters actually choose not to vote "early" after all!


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