Civic Nebraska — Rutgers University and the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission have released new findings that, among other things, show the power of vote-by-mail to close the participation gap among different segments of our population.
Norwood News — The New York State Assembly joined the Senate late last week and passed new legislation to expand early mail voting, authorizing voters to obtain early mail voting ballots through application to the board of elections, plus more mail-voting centered reform to increase access to mailed-out ballots. The legislation is now before Governor Kathy Hochul for approval.
New York’s legislation is modeled after Pennsylvania law, passed in 2019, and is expected to have similar impact in the use of mailed-out ballots. Pennsylvania saw voting at home increase from 4% in 2018 – the same rate as New York that year – to 20% in 2022.
The National Vote at Home Institute is proud to have been a member of the coalition that advocated for this policy change, and looks forward to supporting its successful implementation for the voters of New York.
Oregon Public Radio — Oregon currently has the highest rates of voter turnout in the entire country. Two factors political scientists point to are the state’s vote by mail system and the “motor voter” law that automatically registers people to vote when they get their driver’s license. We talk with former Oregon Secretary of State and vote-by-mail advocate Phil Keisling about the numbers and what they mean.
Civic Nebraska — For decades, mail voting has been a safe, easy, and convenient way for Nebraskans to cast their ballots. Any Nebraska voter can request an absentee ballot for any reason, while 11 rural counties employ all-vote-by-mail. Mix in a once-in-a-century pandemic in 2020 that provided many voters their first vote-by-mail experience, and it’s easy to see why nearly 40 percent of Nebraskans opted to vote by mail in 2022.
Simply put, mail voting has been good for democracy by driving higher participation in our elections. You may ask: How does Nebraska compare to its sister states? According to an analysis by the National Vote At Home Institute, Nebraska’s rules, processes, and systems put our state near the middle of the pack.
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.
The Hill – A new study makes a case for at-home voting by drawing on a unique civic experiment: a town in rural Nebraska where half of the electorate chose to vote by mail in 2020, while the other half went to the polls.
Emerson, Neb., is a classic corn-belt farm town, with roughly 900 citizens and 500 voters. The western half of Emerson lies in Dixon County. Two other counties split the eastern half.
The town’s layout made it a perfect laboratory to test the merits of mail-in balloting. Dixon County conducted the 2020 election entirely by mail. The other counties did not.
The National Vote at Home Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for at-home balloting, commissioned a study. What it found: In the fall 2020 election, 78 percent of Emerson voters turned out in the western half of town, where everyone voted by mail. In the eastern half, where most people went to the polls, turnout stalled at 66 percent.
The Fulcrum – Every state that relies heavily on voting by mail outperformed the national median during the 2022 primaries – but none of them led in turnout this year. That distinction went to Wyoming, where Rep. Liz Cheney ran in a statewide nominating contest, and Kansas, which put an abortion measure on the primary ballot.
But the seven states that do run vote-by-mail primaries were all in the top 20 – including four of the top seven – according to data collected by the National Vote at Home Institute.
The Seattle Times — As disinformation about the 2020 election and the security of vote-at-home elections persists, instilling public confidence is critical. Washington voters have every reason to be confident in their election system, and every reason to continue to improve it.
Washington is one of only eight states that automatically sends a ballot to their voters for every election, it routinely boasts some of the nation’s highest turnout, and it was the only state in 2020 to receive a perfect score from Brookings Institute for its preparedness for voting during a pandemic. Not to mention the state has been on the cutting edge of election innovations, from being one of the first states to adopt mail-in balloting to implementing same-day and automatic voter registration and the Future Voter program.
As the pandemic began to take shape in 2020, states and local jurisdictions from across the country looked to Washington state’s election officials for expertise and advice for ramping up their mail-ballot programs in the midst of a global health crisis. In fact, National Vote at Home Institute regards Washington as a model state for vote-at-home (or vote-by-mail) elections systems. Thanks to its mail-ballot accessibility and system resilience, the state in 2020 saw its highest turnout on record for a statewide primary in more than a half-century and near-record turnout in the general election.
However, a recent performance audit by the Washington State Auditor’s Office found that during the 2020 general election, the ballots of young voters, male voters and voters of color were more likely to be rejected due to voter-signature issues than other racial and demographic groups. Troublingly, the ballot rejection rate for Black voters was 2.49%, 1.59% for Native Americans, 1.57% for Hispanics, 1.24% for Asian/Pacific Islanders and 0.63% for white voters. And voters under the age of 26 accounted for more than 30% of rejected ballots.
The overall rejection rate was less than 1%, and the audit found no evidence of bias in decisions to accept or reject ballots. Nonetheless, state and local election officials agree the disparities warrant further examination. In fact, the Office of the Secretary of State requested that the state Legislature fund a study through the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance to evaluate the audit’s recommendations.
The audit outlined several innovations election officials could adopt to increase the chances of curing challenged ballots, and among the innovative practices recommended was robust ballot tracking.
Today, Washington voters can check the status of their ballot by logging in to VoteWA.gov. This lookup tool provides voters an opportunity to see when their ballot is on its way to them, when it has been received by their county elections office and whether it has been accepted or challenged (and ultimately, rejected). With end-to-end ballot tracking, however, voters are proactively notified via email and/or text by their local elections office when their ballot is out for delivery, when it has arrived at their home, when it has been received by the election office and when it has been accepted. If the ballot is not accepted, the ballot tracking service can quickly relay instructions to voters on how to cure their ballot so it may be accepted and counted. The system can even be configured to alert voters of upcoming elections, deadlines and other important voting information.
To eliminate voting disparities and stay ahead of the curve, the Washington Office of the Secretary of State is considering this innovation, which is currently used in three of the nation’s eight vote-at-home states as well as in many jurisdictions across the U.S. It’s convenient, transparent and accessible, much like tracking an online order. Plus, participating in ballot tracking programs has been shown to boost turnout by as much as 20%.
Before the Secretary of State’s Office could implement ballot tracking, migrating each of Washington’s 39 county election offices to VoteWA, the state’s voter registration and election management system launched in 2019, was crucial. With VoteWA now well-established, the secretary’s office is poised to develop an end-to-end ballot tracking system to serve voters statewide.
Washington state is home to some of the most accessible and secure elections in the country. Voting at home remains a time-tested, fair way to improve access and increase turnout across demographics. Implementing some of the recommendations from the audit, including robust ballot tracking, would serve to further enhance voters’ experience with and confidence in their elections system, and could turn the tide on some of the disparities in ballot-rejection rates.
Pat McCarthy is the Washington state auditor.
Steve Hobbs is Washington’s Secretary of State.
Lori Augino is the executive director for the National Vote at Home Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit dedicated to expanding vote by mail.