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Hawaii: Governor Ige Signs All-Mail Voting, Automatic Recount Bills | Blaze Lovell/Honolulu Civil Beat

When you vote for the next U.S. president or Honolulu’s next mayor, you probably won’t do it in a polling booth. Gov. David Ige signed into law Tuesday afternoon bills establishing an all-mail voting system starting with the 2020 elections along others mandating automatic recounts in close races. He also signed a bill that allows for ballots to be electronically transmitted for voters with special needs. Those bills were among 18 others Ige signed Tuesday covering homelessness, mental and physical health, kupuna care and traffic safety. The state Office of Elections has already begun work on getting the all-mail voting system ready for the 2020 elections. Voters should be getting their ballots, along with prepaid return envelopes, about 18 days before each election.

Full Article: Ige Signs All-Mail Voting, Automatic Recount Bills.

Editorials: The End of the Polling Booth | Tina Rosenberg/The New York Times

We’ve been thinking about elections backward.

“The ballot belongs to the voter, not the government,” said Phil Keisling, the former secretary of state of Oregon. “As long as it can be done with safety and integrity, it’s the obligation of the government to get it to me. It’s not my responsibility to qualify for it and get it.”

Many states are taking that goal seriously, and to meet it, they are taking steps to abolish the traditional polling booth.

Voting as a right should not be controversial. But in many places, election officials are trying to make voting more difficult. One example is Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams by a sliver. At the time of the election, Mr. Kemp was secretary of state, overseeing voting, and rejected calls to resign and avoid a conflict of interest. Georgia purged thousands of voters from the rolls and threw out hundreds of absentee ballots. Some precincts had too few voting machines and hours when the machines were down. All of these issues disproportionately affected black voters.

The success of this voter suppression is likely to encourage more Republicans to do the same. It’s very dangerous. But we should also worry about other states.

New York, for example, doesn’t do voter suppression, but it’s one of many states where voting can be truly inconvenient. We New Yorkers can’t register on the same day we vote. We can only get an absentee ballot for a prescribed set of reasons. We can’t get permanent absentee status. We don’t get Election Day off from work. Until the law was changed this year, we couldn’t vote before Election Day and were automatically de-registered if we moved. And polling places in many parts of the state opened at noon.

We tend not to think of this as bad behavior, because the restrictions aren’t openly racist. (Except that the whole “let’s vote on a weekday and not give hourly workers time off” is a way to make it hard for low-wage workers to vote.) New York’s rules never struck me as problematic before, because it’s how everyone voted when I was growing up.

But it isn’t how everyone votes now.

In Washington, Oregon and Colorado — and any minute now, Hawaii, where the governor is about to sign a new law — there are no longer traditional polling places. (California is also rolling this out county by county; by the 2020 election, half of voters will get a ballot at home.) The states mail ballots in bar-coded envelopes to every registered voter several weeks before the election. It’s automatic; the voter doesn’t need to request it.

Those states are blue or purple, but home voting is also growing in red states. Voters in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties automatically get ballots at home. Nebraska and North Dakota also use it, to varying degrees. And nearly half of states allow certain elections to be conducted entirely by home voting. It allows voters to mark their ballots at their leisure and either mail it back or drop it in a ballot drop box. (Most use a drop box, which is why it’s not entirely accurate to call it vote-by-mail.) Some states allow voters to track the progress of their ballots electronically.

If you’d prefer to vote the old-fashioned way, you can still go to a staffed voter center in a central location — for example, the township hall. There any voter can cast a ballot, regardless of geography. “We’ll send it to the right place,” said Kim Wyman, Washington’s secretary of state. And people with disabilities who can’t vote with a paper ballot have other options.

Oregon was the first vote-at-home state, passing it in a popular referendum in 1998, when Mr. Keisling, as secretary of state, was in charge of state elections. Washington joined in the 2012 election, and Colorado in 2014.

Ms. Wyman, a Republican, said that vote-at-home isn’t a partisan thing. (Here’s an article recommending home voting by Mr. Keisling and Sam Reed, the former Washington secretary of state, another Republican.)

“Lots of ideas about engaging voters certainly scare members of my party,” Ms. Wyman said. “They think if you make it so easy to vote, Democrats are going to be the ones voting. I don’t think that’s what happens. You’re making it easier for everyone.”

Mr. Keisling, who is director of the Center for Public Service at Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government and chairman of the National Vote at Home Institute, opposed switching Oregon to home voting in 1989, when he was a state legislator. “It was the ‘crunch of autumn leaves’ argument — that sense of community that I personally enjoyed, going to our local elementary school, seeing neighbors, feeling connected to this great American tradition,” he said.

He said he eventually realized that he was confusing a ritual of democracy with its essence: participation — and that many people who wanted to vote weren’t able to participate on a weekday.

Every move toward making voting more convenient has garnered opposition — and not always from whom you’d expect. In 1995, the Democratic governor of Oregon — backed by national Democrats — vetoed home voting.

“Whichever party thought it was able to best take advantage of it would like it,” said Christopher Mann, an assistant professor of political science at Skidmore College. “In the 1990s, pre-Election Day voting was seen as a giant conspiracy to advantage Republicans, because at the time Republicans were better at mobilizing people.”

Today, there are many more likely Democrats than Republicans among nonvoters. The younger you are, the more likely you are to support Democrats, and the less likely to vote. “But Republicans have plenty of voters they can mobilize as well,” Dr. Mann said. Rural people might prefer voting at home because polling places are sparse. Tens of millions of older people don’t vote and might be the first to embrace home voting.

Home-voting states have high turnout. But that doesn’t prove home voting is the cause. It could be that states with a stronger culture of voting are more likely to institute such reforms.

There is some evidence that when places shift to home voting, turnout jumps. Between the midterm elections in 2014 and 2018, Utah rolled out home voting and had the greatest rise in turnout of any state. The five California counties that switched to home voting in 2018 increased their turnout more than the rest of the state.

The size of the effect, though, depends on the kind of election.

Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at M.I.T. and an adviser to the National Vote at Home Institute, said that in presidential elections, any structural change is dwarfed by what the candidates and their campaigns do. In midterm elections, “the jury is still out,” Dr. Stewart said.

But getting everyone a ballot automatically has a huge effect in elections voters don’t know much about. In primaries, special elections and local races, turnout is often in single digits. “It tends to shoot way up with vote-at-home,” Dr. Stewart said. (Not only is voting more convenient; having that ballot envelope staring at you from your kitchen table reminds you there’s an election.) He said that early research indicated that the extra voters are not new to voting but people who do vote in bigger elections.

Vote-at-home is also associated with more people voting their whole ballot — even the mysterious judicial races and ballot propositions at the tail end. In Utah, home voting was associated with a 5.5 percentage point increase in voting in down-ballot races.

Is it cheaper? “The No. 1 issue for election officials is finding enough qualified people to run polling places,” said Amber McReynolds, who was election director in Denver (a champion of voter convenience) and now is executive director of Vote at Home. She said that voting at home requires only 30 percent to 40 percent of the staff. The Pew Charitable Trusts studied Colorado’s switch in 2014 and found that the vote-at-home system was 40 percent cheaper.

Buying new, secure election equipment for polling places is an expense vote-at-home states can skip. But they do need machinery to process and count ballots. California’s secretary of state requested $134 million to cover half the cost of updating counties’ voting equipment as they move away from traditional polling places. “Vote-by-mail has costs, too,” Ms. Wyman said. “I’ve never tried to sell vote-by-mail on it being a less expensive model.”

Ballot integrity is a big concern with any voting method. Home voting has some safeguards — a machine can compare signatures on the ballot with the one on file, and if they don’t match, a human takes a look. “Comparing signatures is better than poll workers asking for name and address,” Dr. Mann said. “Poll workers are not trained signature experts. Computers are more scientific.”

Poll workers tend to scrutinize people of color more than whites, Dr. Mann said. “Some of it’s fairly benign and some not at all.” Voting at home removes this bias. “You take out the human interaction and you take out the problems that come with it,” he said.

One possible problem with home voting is the lack of voting privacy, combined with family power imbalances — a husband, for example, could force his wife to vote a certain way. Or someone can wave cash at people for their vote. This could always happen, of course — vote-buying and intimidation are old stories — but with vote-at-home, the buyers can demand to see the ballot before it’s turned in. Still, such incidents are almost nonexistent. Mr. Keisling wrote that Oregon has seen about 24 cases in 100 million ballots — none organized or of consequence.

And home voting, which uses paper ballots, is a solution to by far the greatest threat to the integrity of the vote: hacking.

“I’ve always approached my job as removing as many barriers as we can, balanced with controls for security,” said Ms. Wyman, the Republican. “It can drive people on my side of the aisle crazy a little bit: They think “voters should have to work for it, you can’t make voting easy.’ But when you see voter suppression in the South, with entire voting blocs of black voters unable to participate, you see why this matters.”

Full Article: Opinion | The End of the Polling Booth – The New York Times.

Full Article: Opinion | The End of the Polling Booth - The New York Times.

Washington: Legislature considers removing barriers to voting on reservations | The Spokesman-Review

Washington could remove barriers to registering to vote and casting ballots on reservations, where voter participation is lower than the rest of the state. Committees in the House and Senate on Wednesday considered identical versions of the Native American Voting Rights Act, which would allow tribal members with nontraditional addresses to register and be mailed ballots and allow tribes to request more drop boxes. Problems with addresses and distant drop boxes prevent tribal members from registering and voting, said Alex Hur, who represents One America and Washington Voting Justice Coalition.

Full Article: Washington Legislature considers removing barriers to voting on reservations | The Spokesman-Review.

Wyoming: All mail ballot election bill dies | Gillette News Record

A bill to open up Wyoming to mail-in ballot elections failed to gain any traction against a headwind of concerns about voter fraud and uninformed voters having an easier time participating in the system. House Bill 36 would have allowed county commissioners to choose to run state and federal elections through a mail-in ballot system. It failed on a 4-3 vote Thursday in the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, with Reps. Aaron Clausen, R-Douglas; Dan Furphy, R-Laramie; and Chairman Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, voting in favor. Two freshman members were excused from the meeting and didn’t enter a proxy vote.

Full Article: Mail-in ballots bill dies | Wyoming | gillettenewsrecord.com.

National: Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer Introduce Nationwide Vote-by-Mail Bill | Willamette Week

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) today introduced a bill aimed at curbing voter suppression. The politicians are proposing a nationwide adoption of Oregon’s vote-by-mail system, which they say will help democratize elections processes. The Vote-By-Mail Act would require passage by a Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump to become reality. On the eve of a 13-day government shutdown over funding of a U.S., Mexico border wall, that’s an unlikely scenario.

Full Article: Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer Introduce Nationwide Vote-by-Mail Bill - Willamette Week.

Nebraska: Several Nebraska counties planning switch to all-mail elections | KHGI

A paperwork mix-up has a recall election on hold in Aurora, while they sort out the legal timeline to hold an election. When the vote does happen, Hamilton County may join a growing list of counties sending all ballots in the mail. County Clerk Jill DeMers said they’ve had problems finding folks to work at polling places. “Especially with the late harvest this year, there was one polling place I had one lady working. I made multiple calls and I did end up with three poll workers and one that could work part-time,” DeMers said. Hamilton County could neighbors to the north in Merrick County, by going to all-mail elections. “It’s a lot easier, a lot less stressful,” said Merrick County Clerk Marcia Wichmann.

Full Article: Several Nebraska counties planning switch to all-mail elections | KHGI.

Colorado: 61,000 Adams County voters are still missing ballots (and other voting problems around Colorado) | The Colorado Sun

A quarter of voters in Adams County — a key 2018 battleground in Colorado — have yet to receive their ballots because one of four trucks carrying them to be mailed didn’t make it to a postal processing center last week. About 61,000 Adams County ballots — mostly for residents in Thornton, Brighton and Aurora — had yet to be sent as of Tuesday afternoon. “We’re waiting on the truck to pull up,” U.S. Postal Service spokesman David Rupert said. Julie Jackson, spokeswoman for Adams County Clerk and Recorder Stan Martin, said it was unclear why the ballots on the truck weren’t unloaded and ended up being returned to a secure location. She said the office is still investigating to find out what happened.

Full Article: 61,000 Adams County voters are still missing ballots (and other voting problems around Colorado) – The Colorado Sun.

Wyoming: Mail-in ballot proposal for Wyoming clears major hurdle | Wyoming Tribune Eagle

In the future, Wyomingites could be filling out their ballots from the comfort of their own home. A proposed bill to allow counties to move to mail-in ballot elections cleared a major hurdle Wednesday, passing out of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee on an 11-2 vote. But whether or not it finds support in the full Legislature next session remains to be seen. The bill would give county clerks the option to switch over their elections to a mail-in ballot. Voters would receive a ballot at their residence and could drop it off or mail it back to the county clerk’s office, or drop it off at one of several secured ballot drop boxes across the county. The bill also mandates the county have one polling center open on the day of the election where voters could drop off a ballot or fill one out.

Full Article: Mail-in ballot proposal for Wyoming clears major hurdle | Local News | wyomingnews.com.

New Jersey: New mail-in ballot law could cause confusion at the polls | NJTV

County workers are stuffing envelopes with mail-in ballots, and they’re stuffing a lot of envelopes. Thanks to a new state law, every voter who got a mail-in ballot in 2016 will automatically get one this year, unless they opt out in writing. So where Monmouth County expected to send out up to 20,000 mail-in ballots, it will now have to send out more than 30,000. “That part of the law, that new change, has been difficult to implement in such a short time period because vote by mail ballots start going out Sept. 22. It’s not like we have until November to implement a law that was enacted in August. We basically had a month,” said Monmouth County Clerk Christine Giordano Hanlon. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the law in August, arguing that expanding mail-in voting, or what used to be known as an absentee ballot, would expand voter participation. County clerks, however, say they had just weeks to comply with the law, without additional resources to do so.

Full Article: New mail-in ballot law could cause confusion at the polls | Video | NJTV News.

Alaska: Officials hope to avoid confusion over voting | Associated Press

Officials with the state and with Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, hope to avoid any confusion about voting in this year’s primary and general elections. Anchorage has moved to a vote-by-mail system for its local elections. However, the state has not gone that route and will conduct the Aug. 21 primary and Nov. 6 general elections as normal. That typically means voting in person. However, a voter also can request an absentee ballot, which can be returned in the mail — one of the options the state offers for casting ballots. Samantha Miller, communications manager for the state Division of Elections, said officials with the division and municipality planned to meet Monday to discuss the upcoming elections.

Full Article: Alaska officials hope to avoid confusion over voting | Myrtle Beach Sun News.

Wyoming: County clerks draft mail-in ballots bill for Legislature | Wyoming News

Wyoming lawmakers are exploring the possibility of allowing counties to administer mail-in ballot systems, but one of the legislators in the committee that could move it forward said it’s unlikely it will go anywhere. For the last several years, county clerks from around Wyoming have been discussing the possibility of elections by mail. Several factors led to the notion, such as aging voting equipment that will be expensive to replace, difficulty finding suitable polling places and a shortage of election judges, said Debra Lee, Laramie County clerk. The expense of it all, she said, is becoming hard for clerks. And with Wyoming in an ongoing fiscal crunch, there’s little money available on the state or local levels to address the problems.

Full Article: Wyoming county clerks draft mail-in ballots bill for Legislature | Local News | wyomingnews.com.

Alaska: League of Women Voters asks state to adopt mail-in ballot | Must Read Alaska

The Anchorage League of Women Voters has sent a resolution to the State of Alaska asking it to adopt the mail-in ballot for the General Election.  It’s not clear from the resolution if the League wants only Anchorage to be able to conduct the General Election with a mail-in ballot, or if the League expects the entire state to “go postal” in November. The resolution sent to the Division of Elections leaves that open to interpretation and seems to suggest a hybrid of regular and mail-in voting for areas outside of Anchorage. But Anchorage would be all mail-in, as it did in the Municipal Election in April. The wording “supports the State of Alaska utilizing the Municipality of Anchorage new vote-by-mail system beginning with the State of Alaska elections in 2018;” It’s the first public push from mail-in ballot proponents to get the entire state on the system.

Full Article: League of Women Voters asks state to adopt mail-in ballot - Must Read Alaska.

Nebraska: Counties Seek to Pilot Elections Entirely by Mail | Associated Press

More Nebraska county election officials are seeking state permission to conduct elections exclusively by mail as turnout figures rise. Garden County was the first in Nebraska to conduct a countywide all-mail election after receiving approval to pilot the project from the Secretary of State this year, the Lincoln Journal Star reported . Nebraska counties with populations of 10,000 people or fewer have had the option since 2009 to hold all-mail elections, if given state approval. More than 58 percent of Garden County voters cast a ballot in the May 15 primary election, compared to statewide voter turnout of about 24 percent.

Full Article: Nebraska Counties Seek to Pilot Elections Entirely by Mail | Nebraska News | US News.

Washington: King County senators say state should pay for mailed ballots | Snoqualmie Valley Record

With Washington voters having cast their ballots through the mail since 2011, Sens. Joe Fain and Mark Mullet said today that the state should pay for postage to increase voter participation and reduce any confusion or barriers to participating in elections. The two lawmakers from King County drafted legislation this month that they intend to file ahead of the 2019 legislative session. “Voting is a critically important right and our state has an interest in removing barriers that keep people from exercising that right,” said Fain, R-Auburn, who has worked on election reform and proposals to expand voter access while a member of the state Senate in a press release. “Whether it is the cost or fact that many don’t keep stamps at home in an increasingly paperless society, this is one way to simplify the process and encourage people to participate in our self-government.”

Full Article: King County senators say state should pay for mailed ballots | Snoqualmie Valley Record.

Alaska: State considers measures to switch to mail voting | Peninsula Clarion

Alaska is looking into conducting more of its elections by mail, though it may not completely convert right away. Interest at the state and local government levels increased after the Municipality of Anchorage saw a massive jump in its voter turnout during its April 3 election, which was conducted entirely by mail. However, the cost also reportedly increased, in part due to the printing and mailing of ballots. The Alaska Division of Elections and the Election Policy Work Group plan to meet May 8 and 9 in Anchorage to discuss four possible new vendors for the state’s ballot systems, all of which would involve a hybrid vote-by-mail system, according to a press release issued Thursday.

Full Article: Alaska considers measures to switch to mail voting | Peninsula Clarion.

Washington: Secretary of State Kim Wyman asks Gov. Inslee for $2 million to fund prepaid postage for mail-in ballots | The Seattle Times

Gov. Jay Inslee is considering a request from the state’s top election official to spend $2 million to cover prepaid postage on mail-in ballots for this year’s elections. Secretary of State Kim Wyman made the emergency request in response to a similar measure before the Metropolitan King County Council. On Monday the county council decided to delay a vote by a week on a request sponsored by Councilmember Dave Upthegrove to spend $381,000 for prepaid postage for the Aug. 7 primary and the November general election. The request originated with King County Elections Director Julie Wise.

Full Article: Secretary of State Kim Wyman asks Gov. Inslee for $2 million to fund prepaid postage for mail-in ballots | The Seattle Times.

Alaska: Election cost doubles as Anchorage turns to vote by mail | Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage paid slightly more than $1 million to hold the city’s first-ever vote-by-mail election this spring, roughly twice the cost of previous poll-based elections, according to data released by election officials Friday. Elections officials said they weren’t surprised by the higher price tag for the election, an experiment that recorded the highest number of voters in an April city election in city history. But the bigger bill likely won’t go away anytime soon, officials said.”It looks like going forward we will probably have higher election costs doing vote-by-mail than we did the poll-based election,” said Assemblyman Pete Petersen, who chairs the Assembly’s ethics and elections committee.

Full Article: Election cost doubles as Anchorage turns to vote by mail - Anchorage Daily News.

Alaska: After Anchorage success, state considers whether Alaska is ready for elections by mail | Juneau Empire

By the numbers alone, Anchorage’s first election held by mail has been a smashing success. Election Day was Tuesday, and almost 80,000 votes have already been received by elections officials, setting a record for the most ever cast in an Anchorage muncipal election. State elections officials have already been asking the obvious question: If it worked for Anchorage, could it work for the rest of the state? “I think it very well might,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak and a member of the state’s elections policy task force. “If half of our population is voting by mail and it’s a good experience, why wouldn’t the rest of the state want to do that?”

Full Article: After Anchorage success, state considers whether Alaska is ready for elections by mail | Juneau Empire - Alaska's Capital City Online Newspaper.

Hawaii: Lawmakers consider conducting Hawaii’s elections entirely by mail | KHON2

Are Hawaii voters ready to cast their votes by mail only? Some lawmakers think so. It’s a measure that’s been proposed and election officials have a strong argument for it. Chief election officer Scott Nago says the numbers show more people are not heading to the polls anymore. Voting by mail would also save the state money. We learned that 62 percent voted absentee during the 2016 primary. For the general election, absentee votes made up 54 percent.

Full Article: Lawmakers consider conducting Hawaii’s elections entirely by mail | KHON2.

Hawaii: State May Switch To All-Mail Elections In 2020 | Honolulu Civil Beat

A bill that attempts to ramp up Hawaii’s voter turnout by mandating all-mail elections is now headed to  the full House of Representatives. House Bill 2541 cleared the Finance Committee after a hearing Tuesday. The bill calls for eventually mailing out all ballots and closing traditional polling places. The Aloha State has had the worst voter turnout in the country for the last five presidential elections. And just 35 percent of voters participated in the 2014 primary election, a record low. Oregon switched to all-mail ballots 20 years ago and has seen increased voter participation ever since. Washington and Colorado also vote exclusively by mail.

Full Article: Hawaii May Switch To All-Mail Elections In 2020 - Honolulu Civil Beat.