Weeks before Election Day, every registered voter in Oregon, Washington and Colorado got a ballot in the mail. They didn’t have to sign up, and no one had to make any special plans to head to out-of-the-way polling places within a specific window: Elections in those three states are conducted entirely by mail. It’s a controversial practice: Democrats who passed legislation creating all-mail elections say they help boost participation, especially for those who have to work on Election Day. Some Republicans say it’s a transparent attempt to tip the scales toward Democratic candidates, and that it’s ripe for fraud and abuse. But the Republican view on all-mail elections isn’t uniform: Kim Wyman (R), Washington’s secretary of state, is a big fan. Scott Gessler (R), Colorado’s secretary of state, isn’t.
In Washington, Wyman has years of experience with elections conducted almost entirely by mail. The state allowed voters to register for permanent absentee ballots beginning in the early 1990s; by 1996, more than half of all votes cast came in through the mail. In some of the state’s more rural counties, it didn’t make financial sense to continue operating polling places, when so many voters had already cast their ballots. “We would see turnout as high as 90 percent among absentee voters in some small elections,” Wyman said in an interview. “That, I think, really solidified for a lot of elections administrators around the state that running two separate elections was becoming problematic.”
To Gessler, whose state only began conducting elections entirely by mail this year, the system creates the potential for what he calls a “single point of failure” — the U.S. Postal Service. “The Postal Service is cutting back service for cost-cutting measures,” Gessler said. “You’re seeing some disenfranchisement of voters where the post office is just so slow.”
“I think more people are disenfranchised through all-mail ballots because of the post office than anything else in the country,” he said.