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Mail Voting

Convenience voting, defined as access to voting at a time and place of the voter’s choosing, has grown exponentially in the United States within the last two decades. A majority of states now permit “no-fault” or “no excuse” absentee voting, early in person voting, and vote-by-mail (VBM), and it is estimated that approximately one-third of all voters in the 2008 general election took advantage of some form of early voting.

There are advantages and disadvantages of convenience voting in the form of no excuse absentee voting, permanent no excuse absentee voting, and VBM, all of which use the United States Postal Service as a central component. As inevitably occurs with any significant change in a fundamental institution, the rapid expansion of voting outside the precinct polling place has been controversial. Proponents maintain that no excuse absentee and VBM systems increase turnout and may even expand political participation in previously under-represented demographic groups. Other supporters point out that convenience voting permits voters to study the ballot and issues more closely and make more informed choices. Opponents decry the greater opportunity for election fraud that may exist in a mail ballot system, fraudulent activities such as vote buying, coercion or undue influence on voters by family or political operatives, and, not least of all, the interception of ballots. Others raise valid concerns about the reliability of mail service in large urban areas.

Many opponents complain that mail-in balloting comes at the cost of losing the communal, civic aspect of voting at a neighborhood polling place. As Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute framed the argument: “[Voting] should be a meaningful experience, where citizens congregate with their neighbors and affirm their joint commitment to society… Reducing the vote to the equivalent of filling out a Publisher’s Clearinghouse lottery cheapens the experience.” On the other hand, proponents point out that mail-in balloting can be seen “kitchen table voting” which opens opportunities for political discourse among family and friends. The argument that mail-in balloting is detrimental to civic involvement, one researcher contends, “ignores the rich 'togetherness' that can be achieved by voting at home,” and fails to recognize “that there are positive benefits from the increased deliberative environment of vote by mail.

Read Project Vote's policy brief on Convenience Voting here.



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