Committee Endorses Allowing Maine Voters to sign up for Single Sign-up

Maine Public — A legislative committee has advanced a bill that would allow voters to automatically receive absentee ballots.

Beginning this year, Maine voters who are disabled or at least 65 years old can request that town clerks automatically mail absentee ballots to them for every statewide and municipal election. Some lawmakers now want to make that same option available to all voters.

The bill, LD 1690, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick, has the support of Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, who pointed out that five other states already allow “ongoing absentee balloting.”

The Census Bureau Report Reveals the Impact of Mailed-out Ballots

2022 midterm election data released this week by The Census Bureau reveals the impact of automatically sending registered voters their ballot rather than requiring them to travel to a polling place or apply for a mailed-out ballot. 

The Census Bureau released its report on voter registration and turnout in the November 2022 midterm election this week, estimating a 52% turnout of eligible citizens, nearly half of whom voted early in person (15%) or by mail (32%).

Hidden in plain sight is the impact of automatically sending registered voters their ballot rather than requiring them to travel to a polling place or apply for a mailed-out ballot; states using this system had remarkable voter turnout. 

Oregon, the nation’s first state to adopt a vote at home election system in 1998, had the highest participation rate of 70%, with Maine at a distant second, at 64%. Four additional vote at home jurisdictions (ColoradoDistrict of ColumbiaVermont, and Washington) were among the top 10 with 60% or higher turnout rates.

Others include high-contending states (i.e., Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota) that employ no-excuse laws, wherein any voter can request a mailed-out ballot. 

In contrast, the bottom ten states (e.g., AlabamaIndianaNorth Carolina, and Texas) required a legal excuse to request a mailed-out ballot or a witness’ signature, the lowest turnout being 38% in West Virginia

Examining data by voter age (18-34) further exacerbates the notion that increased access to mailed-out ballots boosts turnout, with Oregon leading at 56%, alongside three other vote at home jurisdictions (Washington, D.C., Vermont, and Washington). In contrast, the bottom ten states (e.g., AlabamaIndiana, and West Virginia) required a legal excuse to request a mailed-out ballot or a witness’ signature.

As the report notes, the primary reason nearly half of an estimated 111 million eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot in 2022 was logistical (busy or conflicting schedules, illness or disability, or out-of-town) and easily curable with a mail ballot system.

Minnesota Passes ‘Democracy for the People Act’

KTTC — In a late night vote of 34-33 the Minnesota Senate voted in favor of SF3, more commonly referred to as the “Democracy for the People Act.” The bill overhauls several aspects of the voting process, and according to the DFL, makes it easier for every Minnesotan to cast a ballot.

The Democracy for the People Act allows pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds, criminalizes voter intimidation and interference, and creates automatic voter registration for all Minnesotans who interact with government agencies. Proponents of the bill say automatic registration will have a wide reaching effect.

State-by-State Youth Voter Turnout Data and the Impact of Election Laws in 2022

(CIRCLE) — New estimates of youth voter turnout in the 2022 midterm elections highlight major variations and inequities in young people’s electoral participation across the country. Youth turnout ranged from as high as 37% in some states to as low as 13% in others.

These new estimates are out today from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life, the preeminent national research center on youth voting. They are based on voter file data from 39 states for which age-specific voter file data has been aggregated by Catalist. We define turnout as the percentage of all voting-eligible youth (as opposed to just registered youth), ages 18-29, who cast a ballot in 2022.

According to this new data, Michigan (37%), MaineMinnesotaOregon (all 36%), Colorado (33%), and Pennsylvania (32%) had the highest youth turnout rates in the country. Louisiana (16%), OklahomaIndianaAlabama (all 15%), West Virginia (14%), and Tennessee (13%) had the lowest youth turnout rates. CIRCLE’s analyses suggest that, along with issues and electoral competitiveness, election laws may be playing a central role in shaping whether youth cast a ballot in national elections.

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!

State Mailed-Out Ballot Policies

National Vote at Home Institute Launches Scorecard Ranking States by the Quality and Reach of their Mailed-out Ballot Policies

The interactive tool identifies and weighs 15 key state policies and practices to help citizens and state policy makers boost voter turnout and participation through the increased use of mailed-out ballots in U.S. elections

(March 15, 2023) — The National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI) today issued their first-ever national scorecard highlighting how “Vote at Home friendly” all 50 states and the District of Columbia are in providing citizens access to, use of, and confidence in mailed-out paper ballots.

Based on 15 criteria that highlight three main principles (access, trust, and security), the scorecard is designed to focus on policy and budget decisions made by state legislatures, and to avoid implicit judgements that can’t be quantified. It scores the most significant steps and potential obstacles in facilitating a mail ballot’s journey from election officials to voters and back again.

States score well for adopting inclusive policies that increase access to and use of mailed-out ballots. For example, “local option” laws that allow the Vote at Home model in specific circumstances; or “permanent absentee,” allowing voters to choose to automatically receive their mailed-out ballot for at least four years of future elections. Other indicators include the availability of ballot tracking technology to notify voters when their ballots are dispatched, received, and counted; and “notify and cure” policies that give voters time to correct mistakes or update their signatures. Scores are based on state policies and practices as of March 15, 2023. 

“This is the most focused and comprehensive scorecard of its kind, with criteria that provide a clear guide to boosting mail ballot use,” says Barbara Smith Warner, NVAHI Executive Director. 

“The National Vote at Home Institute’s mission is to increase voter participation and election security through policies and processes that make it easier for voters to receive, track, and return mail ballots,” says Phil Keisling, NVAHI chair and former Oregon Secretary of State. “Our vision is for all active registered voters in America to automatically receive their paper ballots through the United States Postal Service, several weeks before each election, and then have access to multiple in-person options to ensure voters cast their ballots securely, and have their voices heard.”  

Today, eight states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington — and Washington, D.C. employ such “Vote at Home” election systems, and all rank high on the scorecard. Still, none received a perfect score of 65. In contrast, all of the ten lowest-scoring states have “excuse required” laws that mandate voters to provide a narrowly defined specific reason to vote by mail. “The rankings reflect which states are closest to the best-designed Vote at Home election systems, and which still have a long way to travel.” Smith Warner says. 

The vote at home approach has proven increasingly popular with American voters by streamlining the ballot delivery process, so voters aren’t required to travel to specific locations to receive and cast their ballots. In the 2022 midterm election, a record-setting 35% of Americans voted using this method, with Oregon, the first state to mail all voters their ballot 25 years ago, having the nation’s highest turnout of eligible citizens (62.4% compared to 46.6% nationwide). 

Over the last 20 years, NVAHI estimates over 1 billion ballots have been mailed out nationwide for presidential and midterm elections, party primary races, special vacancies, and local elections. Incidences of intentional or consequential fraud with mailed-out ballots have been virtually non-existent, while voter turnout has increased. 

A recent study reveals that of the top ten states for turnout of 18-34 year old eligible voters in 2020, six sent mail ballots to all voters. Additionally, a peer-reviewed academic study found that states who implemented this approach in 2020 saw an average of 5.6% gain in turnout among registered voters, with no substantial partisan impact.

“The evidence is clear and compelling that when all eligible registered voters are mailed their ballot, it strengthens our democracy by increasing participation across all demographics,” Smith Warner noted.

NVAHI intends for its scorecard to provide a roadmap for state legislators, election officials, and citizens interested in moving their states closer to adopting full vote at home election systems. The criteria were selected and weighted to help policymakers identify and implement best practices for voting by mail, regardless of size, population or geography of each state.


About the National Vote At Home Institute (NVAHI)

Founded in 2018, the National Vote at Home Institute is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to increase voters’ access to, use of, and trust in mailed-out ballots to help boost citizen engagement and voter turnout in all U.S. elections. In addition to helping state and local election officials implement best practices for vote at home systems, NVAHI provides research, education, and advocacy services to promote mailed-out ballot use, including (where applicable) the adoption of full vote at home election systems where voters also enjoy various in-person opportunities for ballot receipt and return.


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!