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Mail-Only Voting In Oregon: Easy, Simple, And Secure. Why Not In All 50 States?

Hopefully, you voted today. A democracy works best when citizens participate. And voting is one way to participate.

If you already stood in line to vote, or if your state was one which closed some polling places, know that it doesn't have to be this way. Consider Oregon. Not only is the process there easier and simpler, but elections officials in Oregon don't have to worry as much as officials in other states about hacks and tampering. Why? The don't have voting machines. Yes, that's correct. No voting machines. No polling places either.

NBC News explained:

"Twenty years ago, Oregon became the first state in the nation to conduct all statewide elections entirely by mail. Three weeks before each election, all of Oregon's nearly 2.7 million registered voters are sent a ballot by the U.S. Postal Service. Then they mark and sign their ballots and send them in. You don't have to ask for the ballot, it just arrives. There are no forms to fill out, no voter ID, no technology except paper and stamps. If you don't want to pay for a stamp, you can drop your ballot in a box at one of the state's hundreds of collection sites."

Reportedly, Washington and Colorado also have mail-only voting. Perhaps most importantly, Oregon gets a higher voter participation:

"In the 2014 election, records showed that 45 percent of registered voters 34 and under marked a ballot — twice the level of many other states."

State and local governments across the United States use a variety of voting technologies. The two dominant are optical-scan ballots or direct-recording electronic (DRE) devices. Optical-scan ballots are paper ballots where voters fill in bubbles or other machine-readable marks. DRE devices include touch-screen devices that store votes in computer memory. A study in 2016 found that half of registered voters (47%) live in areas hat use only optical-scan as their standard voting system, about 28% live in DRE-only areas, 19% live in areas with both optical-scan and DRE systems, and about 5% of registered voters live in areas that conduct elections entirely by mail.

Some voters and many experts worry about areas using old, obsolete DRE devices that lack software and security upgrades. An analysis earlier this year found that the USA has made little progress since the 2016 election in replacing antiquated, vulnerable voting machines; and done even less to improve capabilities to recover from cyberattacks.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released results of its latest survey. Key findings: while nearly nine-in-ten (89%) Americans have confidence in poll workers in their community to do a good job, 67% of Americans say it is very or somewhat likely that Russia (or other foreign governments) will try to influence the midterm elections, and less than half (45%) are very or somewhat confident that election systems are secure from hacking. The survey also found that younger voters (ages 18 - 29) are less likely to view voting as convenient, compared to older voters.

Oregon's process is more secure. There are no local, electronic DRE devices scattered across towns and cities that can be hacked or tampered with; and which don't provide paper backups. If there is a question about the count, the paper ballots are stored in a secure place after the election, so elections officials can perform re-counts when needed for desired communities. According to the NBC News report, Oregon's Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson, said:

"You can't hack paper"

Oregon posts results online at results.oregonvotes.gov starting at 8:00 pm on Tuesday. Residents of Oregon can use the oregonvotes.gov site to check their voter record, track their ballot, find an official drop box, check election results, and find other relevant information. 2) ,

Oregon's process sounds simple, comprehensive, more secure, and easy for voters. Voters don't have to stand in long lines, nor take time off from work to vote. If online retailers can reliably fulfill consumers' online purchases via package delivery, then elections officials in local towns and cities can -- and should -- do the same with paper ballots. Many states already provide absentee ballots via postal mail, so a mail-only process isn't a huge stretch.


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even easier than early voting!

Chanson de Roland

One more point is that voting by mail is relatively cheap for communities which can't afford new voting machines. Yes, they have to purchase optical scanners, but scanners are probably cheaper. And even if scanners cost the same, a community can purchase just enough of them to get the votes counted within the legally required period, adding more scanners later to speed its tally of the votes. Someone should check on the numbers for replacing vulnerable DRE voting machines with a mail-only voting system. If it would be as affordable as I think it would be, that would be another strong argument for transitioning to a mail-only voting system for financially strapped jurisdictions.

And, of course, Congress should pay for this because a democracy needs and the American people have a right to faithful and accurate and verifiable voting, tallying of their votes, and the ability to reliably audit the vote and do recounts.


In 2009, Procon.org did a cost comparison of DRE devices versus optical scan devices, when much of the nation was switching from the antiquated lever devices. It found then that DRE devices were more than TWICE as expensive as optical-scan devices. The analysis:

Appendix 4: Cost Comparison of Alternative Solutions (Adobe PDF format)

This analysis is limited in that did not address the cost differences of switching from a polling-place elections system to a mail-only voting system with centralized vote tabulation. A follow-up analysis comparing the costs of polling-place versus mail-only systems must address both that and a solution for impaired (e.g., visual, hearing, etc.) voters. In many states with polling places (e.g., Massachusetts, there ALSO are auto-mark devices in polling places to assist impaired voters.

Oregon uses a mix of tablets and remote access with screen readers for impaired voters:

I will keep looking for more cost analyses.



From the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) about the cost savings of mail-only elections:

"Jurisdictions may save money because they no longer need to staff traditional polling places with poll workers and equip each polling place with voting machines. A 2016 study of Colorado from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that costs decreased an average of 40 percent in five election administration categories across 46 of Colorado’s 64 counties (those with available cost data). However, the study examines a number of reforms that Colorado enacted in 2013, with all-mail elections being the most significant. Others included instituting same day registration and shortening the time length for residency in the state for voting purposes."


And, the link to the 2016 study by Pew Charitable Trusts:


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