Key takeaways from the 2022 primaries (so far)

  • Vote-at-home states (OR, NV, and CA, and the mail-in special primary in AK) and states offering extensive access to mail ballots are outperforming others, averaging 32% turnout. This is compared to states that require an excuse to vote absentee or voters to apply for a mail-in ballot every election, which are averaging 19% and 22% respectively.
  • Nebraska, although not a vote-at-home state, has 11 counties voting entirely by mail. Turnout in those counties averaged 55%, more than 20% higher than the remainder of the state.
  • Similarly, North Dakota’s 42 vote-by-mail counties are averaging greater than 6% higher than its 11 polling-place counties.
  • Nearly 90% of the votes cast in Montana were from mailed-out ballots. Turnout from voters receiving those ballots was 55% versus 12% by polling-place voters.
  • Oregon, a full vote-at-home state is also a “closed primary” state, meaning only Republicans and Democrats can participate in their respective party elections. Turnout for Republicans and Democrats both exceeded 50%. Those rates are more than double the total turnout in many states where all voters were eligible to participate.

Election officials have multiple safeguards in place to keep voting secure

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued an advisory Friday about vulnerabilities affecting versions of Dominion Voting Systems Democracy Suite ImageCast X, an in-person voting system used in local jurisdictions across the country. Yes, that Dominion Voting Systems that has been a target of people pushing false stolen-election narratives. Before sounding the alarm on these systems, however, it’s important to remember the following: 

First, CISA said there is no evidence that the election software flaws have been exploited to change any election results. Rather, the advisory issued today encourages officials to mitigate any identified vulnerabilities and offers suggestions for minimizing risk. In fact, in a statement to The Associated Press, CISA Executive Director Brandon Wales said “states’ standard security procedures would detect exploitation of these vulnerabilities and in many cases would prevent attempts entirely.” 

Second, election officials employ myriad checks and balances, tests, and verifications before, during and after every election that — together — protect the integrity of the voting process and its underlying systems. 

Every state and local election official has their own protocols and best practices to maintain the chain of custody for election materials and detect anomalies. These controls include: 

  • voter verification at the time of registration as well as when voters request absentee ballots; 
  • pre-election Logic and Accuracy testing to ensure ballot tabulation equipment is working properly; 
  • physical security measures, like 24/7 surveillance, witness forms elections workers must sign so officials have an auditable log of when materials and equipment were accessed and changed hands, and tamper-evident locks and seals; 
  • reconciliation reports that provide a daily accounting of mail ballots received; and
  • post-election audits that confirm the reported results. 

These measures are enhanced by cyber security protections from IT departments and federal intelligence agencies that are continuously improving their security posture in the face of threats from bad actors. 

With numerous safeguards in place, voters should be confident in their election system and its outcomes.  

Finally, expanding access to mail ballots may actually improve security, despite persistent misinformation and disinformation to the contrary. Vote-by-mail systems also benefit from the protections U.S. Postal Inspectors provide in ensuring the integrity of the U.S. Postal Service and its ability to deliver democracy to voters across the country. 

In seven states, every voter automatically receives a paper ballot by mail for every election, which they mark by hand and return by mail, official drop box, or in person to their elections office. And in 27 more states, voters do not need an excuse to obtain a mail ballot. 

Vote-by-mail is secure and still preserves accessible options for voters with disabilities to use assistive voting devices. Plus, it’s a transparent process with a verifiable paper trail that instills confidence in voters — especially when ballot tracking coupled with robust curing programs are in place that allow officials to investigate missing or unmatched signatures and offer voters the opportunity to remedy errors. More states and local jurisdictions should consider embracing expanded mail-ballot access with signature curing as a proven, secure voting option.

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Lori Augino is the executive director of National Vote at Home Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to access to and confidence in voting by mail. Previously, she served as the president for the National Association of State Election Directors from 2020 to 2021 and as the state elections director under former Republican Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.   

Power of mailed-out ballots clear in May primaries

2022 primary election turnout as of June 1, 2022.
  • Oregon, a model vote-at-home state, has experienced the greatest overall turnout thus far at 37%.
  • Turnout in Nebraska’s 11 full vote-at-home counties was more than 20 percentage points higher on average than the state’s total turnout. 

With over a quarter of the 2022 primaries in the books, one trend is unmistakable: states and jurisdictions that automatically mail ballots to their voters experience higher turnout than states with more restrictive mail-ballot access.  

Oregon, with its full “vote at home” model in which all active registered voters are mailed their ballots automatically for every election, shows the highest turnout of any state to date at 37.1%. This is more than 10% higher than the average for the remaining 12 states that have held primaries to date. 

Even more striking is turnout in the Democratic and Republican primaries. Oregon is a “closed primary” state, meaning only Republicans and Democrats can participate in their respective party elections. Turnout currently stands at about 53% for Republicans and 50% for Democrats. Those rates are more than double the total turnout in many states where all voters were eligible to participate. 

“When ballots are placed directly in the hands of voters, they turn out,” said Lori Augino, executive director for National Vote at Home Institute and former Washington state elections director. “Automatically mailing a ballot to voters several weeks before the election gives them the time and convenience they need to vote, without having to overcome unnecessary barriers like requesting a mail ballot or obtaining a witness or notary signature.” 

Comparing other major “closed” primaries, the most relevant may be Pennsylvania, with several scorching statewide races in play, including the gubernatorial and Senate contests. Total turnout was well below Oregon’s, coming in at 30%, and party-specific turnout was also far less with about 39% for Republicans and 32% for Democrats. 

About 5% behind Oregon’s overall turnout and holding the second-highest primary turnout to date is Nebraska, an open-primary state with 11 counties using the vote-at-home model in which every active registered voter is automatically mailed a ballot. Those counties came in at an average 55% turnout, more than 20 percentage points higher than the statewide total. 

StateMailed-out ballot policyClosed or Open primaryTotal 2022 primary turnoutRepublican Party turnoutDemocratic Party turnout
OregonVote-at-home (VAH)Closed37%53%50%
PennsylvaniaNo-excuse absenteeClosed30%39%32%
Nebraska*No-excuse absenteeOpen33%40%29%
*NE 11 VAH counties onlyVote-at-home (VAH)Open 55%55%

Sources: Secretaries of state websites and published media reports.

Almost a third of the states had lower than 20% turnout. 

All except North Carolina require voters to have an excuse to obtain a mailed-out ballot, and North Carolina’s witness/notary requirements create an additional obstacle for people to vote using mail ballots. 

StateMailed-out ballot policyTotal 2022 primary turnout
IndianaExcuse required14.0%
TexasExcuse required 19.0%
KentuckyExcuse required 19.0%
North CarolinaNo-excuse absentee, but requires two witnesses or a notary 19.7%

Sources: Secretaries of state websites and published media reports.

“The key difference between these states and those with greater turnout are their policies on access to mailed-out ballots,” said Augino. “Unfortunately, these states impose additional barriers to voters in obtaining mail ballots, which makes voting less convenient and ultimately discourages participation.”