But before he keeps jumping to conclusions, he should reconsider universal vote-by-mail. That’s the only way we vote for president in Oregon, and it works great.
Oregon has conducted elections entirely by mail since becoming the first state to adopt this approach in 1998. There’s no in-person voting, and in the five presidential elections since, we’ve seen nary a “hanging chad,” nor widespread voter fraud allegations, and, Oregonians will tell you, it’s easy: As NBC News neatly explained two years ago: “You don’t have to ask for the ballot, it just arrives. There are no forms to fill out, no voter ID, no technology except paper and stamps. If you don’t want to pay for a stamp, you can drop your ballot in a box at one of the state’s hundreds of collection sites.”
In our state, voters decide questions large and small by mail: In May, Portland voters sent the incumbent Democratic mayor into a runoff with a left-leaning challenger and passed an important referendum to fund homeless services. In rural Baker City, voters approved the sale of a surplus backhoe.
Oregon’s vote-by-mail system has evolved to make voter participation more robust: In 2015, Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed a “motor voter” law that automatically registers drivers to vote, unless they opt out. A Center for American Progress study co-written by a Reed College political scientist found that the program added 116,000 unlikely voters to the rolls, and resulted in 40,000 “previously disengaged people” casting ballots in 2016, making the electorate more diverse.
In 2019, state lawmakers approved a bill to include postage-paid envelopes, so voters no longer need a stamp to send their ballots in. As a result of its success, vote-by-mail has helped expand the franchise: In 2016, according to census data, 61 percent of eligible Oregonians voted, better than the 56 percent national average.
With mail-in voting, Oregon’s hourly workers no longer need to take time off to go vote. They can mark their ballots at home, at their leisure. Rather than rush, voters can ponder the fate of judges one day, then the city council and congressional candidates the next, before signing and sealing their envelopes. Transportation to polling sites is no longer a hurdle for older voters, voters with disabilities or those who don’t drive. And here, vote by mail has bipartisan buy-in. Our Republican secretary of state, Bev Clarno, recently appeared on “60 Minutes,” and when asked about Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting, she responded: “Try it, you might like it.”
Last month, Trump’s ever accommodating attorney general, William P. Barr, told NPR that all-mail elections have “so many occasions for fraud” that “cannot be policed.” Asked whether he had evidence to support that assertion, Barr replied: “No, it’s obvious.” But if it’s so obvious, Trump’s consistent repudiation of mail-in voting even though he and several of his top advisers have voted by mail probably bears additional scrutiny.
No, despite the best efforts of its detractors, including its detractor-in-chief, vote-by-mail’s time has come, and Oregon’s approach should be a model for the nation: Each envelope has its own bar code that enables tracking. Voters sign their ballots and place them, if they wish, in a secrecy envelope. Unlike residents of some other states, Oregonians have no tales to tell of balky voting machines, polling station intimidation or absentee ballot abuse. Investigations by our secretary of state and prosecutors have turned up a paltry number of cases of voter irregularity, typically older voters who inadvertently voted in two states.
Vote-by-mail works. It’s convenient, it expands voting, and the way we do it in my state has so far proved to be nearly tamper-proof, providing an offline paper trail for each vote cast. There’s no reason — other than perceived partisan advantage — that it shouldn’t be adopted in every state.
On a pleasant spring evening, for this year’s primary election, my wife and I strolled down to our neighborhood post office and placed our ballots in a sturdy blue mailbox. Our votes were affirmed with a satisfying slide and thunk. That was it: No lines. No social distancing. Essentially no risk of infecting a poll worker or fellow voter with a deadly virus — or having them infect us. And never once did we worry that our vote wouldn’t count. A few days later, we received nearly simultaneous text messages from Multnomah County’s elections office: Our votes had been recorded.