NVAHI Scorecard: Q&A with Barbara Smith Warner

Earlier this month, National Vote at Home Institute launched our first-ever scorecard measuring state-by-state vote at home “friendliness”.

By now, you’ve browsed the scorecard to see where your state lands and perhaps began scouting obtainable changes that’ll expand access to mailed-out ballots and, ultimately, boost voter engagement.

Our Executive Director, Barbara Smith Warner, answered some commonly asked questions related to the scorecard to fill the gaps and provide further insight into its purpose and how it can support legislators, election officials, and citizens on their journey to expand mailed-out ballots.

Q: What’s the value of the Vote at Home scorecard? How does it differ from others?

BSW: The NVAHI scorecard uses a broad range of criteria that all factor into an ideal vote at home system. Some reflect policy choices and some reflect administrative action, and we weigh them to demonstrate the relative importance of each.

Q: My state is already a full vote at home—how does this impact me?

BSW: You’ll notice that not even the full vote at home states (e.g., California, Oregon, District of Columbia, Washington, etc.) have perfect scores. All have areas where they can improve their systems.

Q: My state has no chance of adopting a full vote at home model—how will this impact me?

BSW: Expanding mailed-out ballot access is a journey, and every step in the process increases access to, use of and confidence in mailed-out ballots for voters, regardless of the final destination. States can use the scorecard to examine the policies they can improve and act on in order to serve their voters better.

Q: Why not rank states according to fraud?

BSW: Fraud is so minuscule across the country that such an exercise doesn’t serve a functional purpose. And with policies like signature verification, the scorecard provides guideposts that enable mailed-out ballot voting to be even more secure.

Q: Who benefits more from vote at home—Republicans or Democrats?

BSW: According to the data, neither. Researchers from Stanford University, among others, reinforce the fact that mailed-out ballots benefit all parties roughly equally. However, if certain players tell their base to avoid it at all costs, that could have an impact.

Q: Does vote at home make a difference in voter turnout?

BSW: Absolutely! There is extensive research on the national level (showing a 5.6% point advantage overall), to state-specific data in places like Utah and Colorado (when they both adopted a full vote at home system for the first time), to 11 counties in Nebraska whose turnout numbers were compared to counties that did not use it. Our Research Library has plenty of material to support this!

Q: How does it benefit voters to vote at home?

BSW: Primarily, voters can be confident that they will have the opportunity to vote. No last-minute events (car trouble, inclement weather, long lines, etc.) will interfere with their ability to cast a ballot. Voting at home also gives the voter the time to research candidates and measures at their leisure, leading to a more informed base. Research shows that mailed-out ballot voters are more likely to participate in low-profile and local races because they feel prepared to decide.

Q: How does the scorecard help legislators on their path to adopting a vote at home model?

BSW: Legislators can readily visit the scorecard and rubric for attainable categories (and their associated policies), which they can implement to enhance mailed-out ballot access. And they can reach out to NVAHI for model language and best practices.

Q: Of the categories identified, what’s the easiest way for a state to become more VaH friendly?

BSW: For excuse-required states, or states requiring an excuse but with a waiver for older voters, eliminate the antiquated excuse requirement.

For states that already allow absentee ballots for any reason, add a single sign-up (AKA permanent absentee) option for voters.

In addition, enacting local option laws that allow cities or counties to conduct their local elections entirely by mail helps educate both voters and election officials on the system’s benefits while also increasing turnout.

Over time, it can be a graceful migration from single sign-up to local option to full vote at home.

Q: How many points can a state get without being full vote at home?

BSW: 55 Points! Plenty of other policies worth celebrating help make mailed-out ballots more accessible for voters (e.g., “no excuse required,” single sign-up, ballot tracking, signature verification, etc.) They, too, deserve praise!

Keep up with Barbara on Twitter: @RepBSW!

International Women’s Day: Q&A with Barbara Smith Warner

On February 27, Barbara Smith Warner was named National Vote at Home Institute’s Executive Director. Formerly of the Oregon House of Representatives, Barbara joined the organization with a decades-long career centered on community. To commemorate International Women’s Day, our Digital Communications Director caught up with her to learn more about her professional trajectory, views of mailed-out ballots, and plans for her first year on the job.

Q: As the Executive Director of the National Vote at Home Institute, what are you looking forward to most? What will you prioritize in year-one?

BSW: As an Oregonian who has been voting at home for more than 20 years, I’m most looking forward to sharing its benefits with states and citizens across the country. I will spend my first year connecting with other democracy advocates and elections officials, and supporting legislative efforts to get more ballots to more voters in more states.

Q: In your opinion, what are the key benefits of vote-at-home? How can this system transform the voting experience?

BSW: The best thing about vote at home is the convenience. Your ballot comes directly to you, and you’ve got time to read about the candidates and issues before you vote. There’s so many ways to return your ballot – by mail, to a ballot box or to your local elections office – and no waiting in line. There’s security in having a paper ballot, and in the signature verification, and if you missed a step or there’s any confusion, you will be contacted to fix it. It’s transformative from start to finish, and less expensive to boot.

Q: You co-led the passage of Automatic Voter Registration and helped to propel the vote-at-home system in Oregon. How does that influence your agency as the Executive Director?

BSW: I’ve not only voted at home for decades, I’ve also worked as a legislator to expand voter access and participation. So I bring that knowledge and experience to the work, and can share practical advice with legislators and advocates about how things play out in real life.

Q: You spent nearly 20 years as a grassroots and community organizer ahead of your own tenure in the legislature. How important was sisterhood and women’s representation to your career trajectory?

BSW: Frankly, the most supportive environment I’ve worked in as a woman was as a legislator. In addition to women serving as four of our five statewide elected officials, my caucus was majority women, and led by women, for all nine years of my service. It was an environment where good policy was more important than getting credit, and where we worked to actively support and uplift one another. I’ve also participated in Emerge Oregon and the Oregon Women’s Campaign School, helping to train and encourage women to both run for office and to work in politics and policy.

Q: Share some advice you’ve received that has helped you most throughout your career. Who did it come from?

BSW: From my mom, to surround yourself with people who are good at things that you are not; from my former Speaker, that incremental change is still change; and from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Q: Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women pursuing a career in legislation?

BSW: Do it! It’s said that men will apply for jobs for which they are 50% qualified but women will only apply for jobs that they are 150% qualified for. The same goes for running for office – your experience and the desire to do good for others is what you need, so do it.

Q: If you could spend the day with any inspirational woman in history, who would it be and why?

BSW: I’ve got to say two: Amelia Earhart, to experience the freedom and adventure that she did; and Shirley Chisolm, to lead with your values without wavering regardless of how challenging the circumstances.

Keep up with Barbara on Twitter: @RepBSW!

The Andrew Goodman Foundation, March For Our Lives, & National Vote At Home Institute Join As Amici In Fifth Circuit Court Of Appeals In Texas’ Vote-By-Mail Age Discrimination Case

The amicus brief argues that the Texas vote-by-mail law is discriminatory and includes data on the impact on young voters overall, and the increased stratification among minority youth voters, who are ineligible to vote by mail due to their age.

The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF), March For Our Lives (MFOL), and National Vote At Home Institute (NVAHI) filed an amicus brief in Cascino v. Scott (No. 22-50748) before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case, originally brought in 2020 in emergency litigation related to the pandemic election, challenges a law that requires young Americans to satisfy a limited set of statutory excuses to qualify to vote by mail, while making vote-by-mail automatically available to voters over the age of 65 who do not need to offer any excuses. Yael Bromberg, Esq. and student-attorneys from the Rutgers International Human Rights Clinic filed the motion and accompanying amicus brief, with the support of local counsel Jared G. LeBlanc, of LeBlanc Flanery PLLC. While numerous parties served as amici during previous phases of the litigation amid the 2020 Presidential Election, the amicus brief serves as the only amici voice during the present phase of litigation.

“The law in place in Texas, and six other states in the nation, unequivocally violates the Twenty-Sixth Amendment by allowing regular voting methods to be provided to one set of voters, while — simply on account of age — another set of voters is left without,” explains Yael Bromberg, Esq., Supervising Attorney in the Rutgers International Human Rights Clinic and AGF’s Special Counsel & Strategic Advisor to the President and CEO. “Age discrimination in voting-by-mail untowardly impacts the rise of youth voters and minority youth in particular, given emerging voting patterns and the changing demographics of Texas and the nation.”

“Restricting young people’s access to the ballot box is voter suppression, plain and simple,” says Ciara Malone, March For Our Lives’ Legal Director. “Guns are the leading cause of death for young people, and we deserve a say in the laws that combat that — or allow it in the first place. Young people will fight for our right to vote and our fundamental right not to be shot, and we’re pleased to join this brief to defend those rights.”

“Texas law is worse than discriminatory; it’s downright hypocritical,” says Phil Keisling, Chair of the National Vote At Home Institute and former Oregon Secretary of State. “However self-righteously they might bleat about ‘election integrity,’ state legislators are telling their own citizens, ‘We think anyone 65 or older is inherently honest and incapable of election fraud crimes with their mail ballots — while the rest of you simply can’t be trusted.’”

When the Texas case was first brought to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020, The Andrew Goodman Foundation, Equal Citizens, and Common Cause, filed an amicus brief, arguing then that the unequal treatment of youth voters in the Texas vote-by-mail law violates the Twenty-Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bans age discrimination in voting. Ahead of the 2020 Presidential Election and amidst the early surge of the COVID-19 pandemic when vote-by-mail was imperative for Americans’ safety. The Supreme Court denied the petition to vacate the stay, although Justice Sotomayor acknowledged the need to consider the merits of the legal question beyond the context of an emergency application to vacate a stay of injunction: “This application raises weighty but seemingly novel questions regarding the Twenty-Sixth Amendment.” Without the injunction, young voters without an excuse remain ineligible to vote by mail in Texas.

The filing of the 2020 amicus brief followed Age Discrimination In Voting At Home, a report published in June 2020 by AGF, Equal Citizens, and a coalition of civil rights groups and legal organizations. The report details how Texas and six other states — Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee — violate the Twenty-Sixth Amendment by discriminating based on age in their vote-by-mail laws. According to the report, in states that discriminate by age, only 5% of 18-24 year-olds voted by mail in 2018, as compared to 65% of people who were 65 or older. In states that did not discriminate by age, the percentage of 18-24 year-olds who voted by mail drastically increased to 17% in 2018.

Data consistently demonstrates that young people want to vote by mail. In the 2020 Presidential Election, 70% of young voters cast their ballots early or by mail. Additionally, research indicates that expansive vote-by-mail policies lead to increased voter turnout, particularly among young voters and voters of color, as further detailed within the amicus brief.

“It is imperative that young voters have the information and resources they need to vote by mail effectively,” says Charles Imohiosen, Esq., President and CEO of The Andrew Goodman Foundation. “In October 2022, The Andrew Goodman Foundation launched Student Vote Choice, a national campaign to promote student voter accessibility to vote in person or by mail and to ensure that these ballots are counted. Together, AGF and our partner organizations will bring polling places, as well as educational resources about voting by mail, to campuses ahead of the 2023 local and 2024 Presidential Elections.”

Amici thank the Rutgers International Human Rights Clinic and its student-attorney clinical team and Supervising Attorney Yael Bromberg, Esq. and Clinical Director Penny Venetis, Esq., as well as local counsel Jared G. LeBlanc, Esq. of LeBlanc Flanery PLLC for their legal representation.

Read the full Amicus Brief

About The Andrew Goodman Foundation
The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s mission is to make young voices and votes a powerful force in democracy by training the next generation of leaders, engaging young voters, and challenging restrictive voter suppression laws. The organization is named after Andrew Goodman, a Freedom Summer volunteer and champion of equality and voting rights who was murdered, alongside James Earl Chaney and Michael Schwerner, by the KKK in 1964 while registering Black Americans to vote in Mississippi. To learn more, visit www.andrewgoodman.org.

About March For Our Lives
Born out of a tragic school shooting, March For Our Lives is a courageous youth-led movement dedicated to promoting civil engagement, education, and direct action by youth to eliminate the epidemic of gun violence. It is our mission to create safe and healthy communities and livelihoods where gun violence is obsolete.

About National Vote At Home Institute
The National Vote at Home Institute is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that aims to increase voters’ access to, use of, and confidence in voting by mail, or “voting at home” — in which voters receive mailed-out paper ballots; return them either by postage-free mail or in-person to a wide range of accessible, convenient, and secure locations; and can track them online, in real-time, to ensure their vote is counted.

HB 4 Is Good for Voters and Democracy

Santa Fe New Mexican — As former public officials committed to promoting democracy and voter access, we urge support for House Bill 4, the New Mexico Voting Rights Act. One of the many excellent features of this legislation is the improved access to ballots, particularly for rural, tribal and underrepresented communities.

Currently, New Mexico voters may vote absentee without needing to provide an excuse. However, there is an increasing movement in states with no-excuse absentee ballots to allow “single sign-up” or “permanent-absentee” provisions, whereby voters can opt in to that model for all elections, without having to request mailed ballots over and over.

Seven states provide this opt in permanent-absentee option. Eight other states plus the District of Columbia go a step further, automatically sending a vote-at-home ballot for each election to all registered voters, who can then mail or drop it off at secure locations.

Both the opt in permanent-absentee and universal vote-at-home systems are a huge convenience for voters, who don’t have to remember to sign up for absentee ballots for each election.

There is also a cost savings when public officials don’t have to process absentee ballot requests from many of the same voters, election after election, year after year.

Most importantly, improving access to ballots increases voter participation.