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.
MEDIA CONTACT: BARBARA SMITH WARNER (MEDIA@VOTEATHOME.ORG)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
(Brennan Center) — Jurisdictions across the country have a range of security features to protect mail ballots from misconduct. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans are using mail ballots in record numbers this year. Fortunately, the use of mail ballots is not a newfangled idea; it was already deeply embedded in the American electoral system before the coronavirus hit.
The Center for American Progress — Voting by mail requires municipalities to distribute ballots to voters before election day. States give voters a window during which they are required to mail back their ballot to an election office, or drop it off at the office or a designated location, in a timely fashion in order to be counted in the election. Voting by mail eliminates the need for voters to visit in-person polling stations and permits them to vote from the safety of their homes. Despite being a convenient option for some voters, however, vote by mail is not a one-size-fits-all solution; in fact, it is inaccessible to many disabled voters who rely on in-person voting accessibility features to guarantee their right to a secure, private, and independent vote. Revising state plans to couple the expansion of vote by mail with in-person voting options is of the utmost importance and would ensure that disabled voters are able to access their right to vote in this historic election.
TIME – Republican state lawmakers are advancing a wave of new voting restrictions aimed at reversing the slew of pandemic-inspired election flexibilities, including expansions of mail voting, that most states adopted last year. But new evidence shows that those voting options likely led to significantly higher turnout among Americans with disabilities, a group that is equally as likely to vote Republican as Democrat.
Just 11% of voters with disabilities said they experienced difficulties in voting in 2020, down from 26% in 2012, according to a study on voting accessibility published Wednesday by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Among disabled voters who used mail ballots, just 5% reported experiencing difficulties, while 18% of disabled voters who opted for in-person voting encountered difficulties.
Those numbers mark a major change from previous election cycles, according to experts on political participation. “Anything that makes it easier, that provides more options to people with disabilities, is good for the turnout of people with disabilities,” says Douglas Kruse, a professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations who co-authored the EAC study.
National organization’s vision is to protect and increase participation in our democracy by delivering voters’ ballots via the U.S. mail.
The National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI) today announced that Barbara Smith Warner, the former majority leader of the Oregon House of Representatives, has been chosen as the organization’s new Executive Director, effective February 27, 2023.
Smith Warner was appointed to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2014, where she served for 9 years and was chosen by her colleagues to serve as House Majority Leader from 2019 to 2022. In addition to strengthening Oregon’s pioneering “Vote at Home” election system –in which all active registered voters are mailed their paper ballots, several weeks prior to every election – Smith Warner also played a leading role in the 2015 passage of another Oregon “first in the nation” democracy reform: Automatic Voter Registration.
Prior to her legislative service, Smith Warner’s experience included working as a field representative for U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and doing strategic organizing and legislative and political education work for the AFL-CIO and the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC).
“In addition to her extensive experience and record of achievements– as an elected public official; a grassroots organizer; and as a skilled communicator and coalition builder – Ms. Smith Warner brings a deep commitment to our work of further expanding the role mailed-out ballots can play to make American democracy more accessible and representative,” noted NVAHI chair Phil Keisling, who served as Oregon Secretary of State from 1991-99.
As Vote at Home’s new Executive Director, Smith Warner will lead the organization’s education, research, advocacy, and partnership efforts to increase voters’ access to, use of, and confidence in getting their ballots delivered to them through the U.S. Postal Service to boost citizen engagement and voter turnout.
“I am thrilled at the opportunity to help expand Vote at Home’s reach and impact to more states and citizens across the country,” said Smith Warner. “As a legislator, I’ve seen how mailed out ballots can strengthen our democracy by making voting easier, more accessible, and more secure for all. As the Executive Director of NVAHI, I look forward to working with election officials, advocates, and partner organizations nationwide to bring the benefits of this safer, more equitable and cost-saving method of voting to all.”
“The evidence has become increasingly clear that ‘vote at home friendly’ policies receive bi-partisan support because they give voters more time and flexibility to make informed decisions up and down their ballots, while significantly boosting voter turnout,” added Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who also serves on NVAHI’s advisory circle. Michigan voters last November overwhelmingly approved a democracy reform ballot measure that includes such a “Single Sign up” provision.
“Barbara’s experience as a legislative leader will be especially useful in helping policy makers across the U.S. understand how much “vote at home” friendly policies can benefit all voters, regardless of which zip code they happen to live in, ” observed Jena Griswold, Colorado Secretary of State and also an NVAHI advisor.
The National Vote at Home Institute is a non-partisan, 501-c-(3) organization that promotes a range of vote at home related policies, including (where practicable) the adoption of full “Vote at Home” election systems in which all registered voters automatically receive their ballots through the U.S. mail several weeks prior to every election.
Voters in such election systems – which do not require them to travel to traditional polling places or apply in advance for so-called absentee ballots — also enjoy multiple in-person opportunities for ballot receipt and return, in addition to other types of direct assistance for those who need or want it.
When NVAHI was founded in early 2018, this approach had been used statewide in just three U.S. states. In the November 2022 midterms, it was used in the District of Columbia and eight states – California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.
Oregon, whose voters first adopted such a system in 1998, boasted the nation’s highest turnout rate among all eligible citizens in the recent 2022 midterm election: 62.4%, compared to the national average of 46.6%.
In addition, six other U.S. states – Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, and Virginia – now have “Single Sign up” policies (often called “permanent absentee lists”) so voters need only submit one request to enjoy the automatic delivery of their ballots via the U.S Mail for all future elections.