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!