All-Mail Voting in Colorado Increases Turnout and Reduces Turnout Inequality

The COVID-19 crisis has sparked interest in all-mail voting as a potential policy solution for avoiding in-person elections. However, past research into the effect of all-mail voting on voter turnout has found mixed results. We exploit the implementation of all-mail voting in Colorado, where statewide policy implementation was effective but turnout has been understudied, to estimate the effect of all-mail voting on turnout for all registered voters, along with age, racial, education, income, and occupational subgroups. Using large voter file data and a difference-in-differences design within individuals, we find an overall turnout effect of approximately 9.4 percentage points. Turnout effects are significantly larger among lower-propensity voting groups, such as young people, blue-collar workers, voters with less educational attainment, and voters of color. The results suggest that researchers and policymakers should look to Colorado’s all-mail voting approach as an effective model for boosting aggregate turnout and reducing disparities across subgroups.

Signature Verification and Mail Ballots: Guarantee Access and Preserve Integrity

When voters cast ballots by mail, election officials need a method to verify their identity to ensure the integrity of the election. In many states, including California, county officials use signature verification, a process by which election officials compare the signature on a vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot return ID envelope to the signatures in a voter’s registration file. If the signatures are sufficiently similar, the ballot is accepted and counted—if not, it is set aside for election officials to review further and attempt to verify the voter’s identity.

California has been a leader among states in expanding options and facilitating vote-by-mail. With statewide implementation of the Voter’s Choice Act (SB 450) slated for 2022, all California voters will be given the option to vote at home and send their ballot in by mail. Increased adoption of this practice has brought state and national attention to all aspects of the vote-by-mail process, including signature verification. Small variations in these practices can decide close races.

The purpose of this study is to understand how California counties manage two related electoral processes: (1) verifying signatures on vote-by-mail ballot return ID envelopes and (2) notifying voters whose signatures were rejected and providing a process to allow voters to remedy this rejection. The latter process encompasses requirements mandated by recent California legislation entitled the Every Vote Counts Act (EVCA), SB 759.

We hope making this information accessible to election officials and the general public will raise awareness of how vote-by-mail ballots are processed in California. We also hope that, as a result, policymakers in California and elsewhere will gain a better understanding of how counties are performing these key electoral functions. Based on this study’s findings, we provide a set of recommendations directed to county election officials, the California Secretary of State’s Office, and to voters themselves to improve these processes and to ensure that, indeed, every vote is counted.

This report is the product of both quantitative analysis and qualitative interviews. To assess the effects of different signature verification processes on vote-by-mail rejection rates, we gathered and analyzed historical voting data for all California counties from 2004 through 2018 from the Election Administration and Voter Survey (EAVS). The bulk of our study, however, grows out of interviews with several national election administration experts and with election officials from thirty-three of California’s fifty-eight counties. While county procedures are identified, quotes are not attributed to individual county officials to preserve confidentiality. Together, the 33 California counties we surveyed represent over 32 million people—more than 80% of the state’s population.

Vote at Home: What is it? Best Practices and Lessons learned

This purpose of this document is to give citizens, civic organizations, policy advocates, and local, state, federal, and tribal government officials (including election administrators) important facts and background about what we refer to as “Vote at Home – VAH” election systems (also often called “All Vote by Mail” elections).

Debunking the Myth of Voter Fraud in Mail Ballots: April, 2020 Report

Are mail-in voting systems actually more prone to fraud? Fortunately, this is an empirical question that academics, think tanks, state governments, and the White House itself has studied over time. We draw from this body of work to address a simple question: is there a heightened risk of fraud with voting by mail, and what risk there is, is it greater than the public health risks associated with having voters show up to vote in person? Decades of data, research, and findings suggest vote-by-mail is safe, secure, and will not lead to greater fraud risks.

Authored By: UCLA Voting Rights Project, University of New Mexico Center for Social Policy, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

MIT Demographics on Voting at Home

The tables here address the following questions:

Who voted by mail in the 2016 presidential election, by salient demographics (i.e., age, race, education, income, partisanship)?

Who supports expanded voting by mail?

How do people return mail ballots?

Colorado Voting Experience

Imagine the perfect voting experience. You drop by the polling place on the way to work or school. The line is moving quickly, so it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to get to the check-in desk. Once there, your registration is rapidly verified, and you’re handed a ballt by a friendly face. No one hassles you; no one unfairly questions your eligibility. You step aside to a private booth, fill out the form, and have it easily scanned. You get a receipt — and the cherished “I voted” sticker. The whole transaction takes about five or 10 minutes. Upon leaving the site, you not only experience that frisson that reminds you you’re a part of something bigger — civic pride — but also leave there in time to drop off the kids at school and make it to work on time.

Or maybe you skip the drive altogether and mail in your completed ballot after having received it in the mail. Or you thought about your choices for months but voted and returned your ballot in a matter of minutes on Election Day. In many ways, it’s a day like any other: you carry on with your duties as you otherwise would. In another way, though, it’s a special and unique experience; you participated in an act that for many was hard-fought and hard- won, that is a guaranteed right to you as a citizen, and that helps direct the course of the nation. You voted. And, because of that, you got to be one of the country’s critical decision-makers.

It may not yet be the norm, but in Colorado, and in states with more in-person and at-home voting options that resemble the above processes, a comprehensive elections model ensures an experience that benefits both voter and administrator alike. And it boosts turnout.

Examining the Voter Choice Act and Vote Center Implementation in California

This study evaluated California’s Voters Choice Act and the effects on turnout and voting methods.

Abstract: “In 2018, California implemented a series of voting reforms under the new Voters Choice Act. Counties were allowed to opt in to the program rather than be required by law. Five counties, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo, implemented the changes for the 2018 primary and general elections. This paper examines the effects from the adoption of the Voter Choice Act in 2018 in terms of turnout and voting methods, with a focus on the shift toward vote by mail. The goal of this study is to better understand who is voting when and how in the revamped California election environment. Results show that when given multiple convenience options such as vote by mail and vote centers with early voting hours, voters overwhelmingly choose to vote by mail. Results also suggest than when voters change their behavior in a reform environment, the majority move from in person voting to vote by mail rather than vice versa.”