Voting by Mail in 2020: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Whether the Ballot You Mail Is Counted May Depend on Where You Vote
All vote by mail systems are not created equal. In Wisconsin, a vote cast in one town would have been rejected in another. In Florida, young voters’ ballots are most likely to be tossed.

“Fraud” = All registered Democrats get to vote and their votes get counted. :rolleyes:

The 2020 elections are shaping up to be their own special kind of clusterfuck.

Vote by mail is awesome, so long as precautions are taken to ensure the vote is legitimate. Oregon has been doing it since 1987, and it’s one of the few things both sides of the aisle agree upon here. It works, and it works well.

Here, it is easy to register to vote. If you got a driver’s license, permit or ID card in Oregon, you registered. If you don’t use the DMV, you can download a form and register in person. Once you are registered, you can do everything online: Switch party affiliation, etc. Our primaries are closed, so you have to affiliate with a party if you want to vote in them.

Ballot packages arrive a couple weeks ahead of the election. They include a ballot, an outer envelope for mailing and an inner envelope for privacy.

There are clear instructions on how the ballot should be completed. In my county, the ballots are like filling out a computerized test. Use a black or blue pen, fill in the oval next to your choice completely. I suspect most ballots that are discarded are because these instructions are not properly followed.

If you mess up your ballot, simply call the elections office and request a replacement.

Ballots cannot be forwarded from one address to another. If you move, you need to update your voter registration.

When you complete your ballot, you can use the privacy envelope if you choose, or not. Your ballot will be counted either way. You must sign the outer envelope of your ballot exactly as your name is printed on the envelope. This is a security measure used to verify identity. If there is a dispute about whether you actually signed the envelope, the county will notify you and you have 14 days after the election to prove you were the person who signed the envelope. Similarly, if you forget to sign the outer envelope, you will be contacted and have 14 days after the election to come to the elections office and sign it.

You can either mail your completed ballot (postage is prepaid) or you can physically take it to a ballot drop box. The ballot must be physically received by a county elections office or in an official drop box by 8:00 p.m. on the date of the election. Postmarks don’t matter. (For this reason, I tend to use the ballot drop boxes.)

You can verify that your ballot has been received/counted online. There is no disclosure of how you voted, but you will know your ballot made it to the elections office and was counted.

Obviously there is a paper record of your vote should a recount be required.

It’s easy, convenient and drives better turnout than most other methods. There really is no reason to be critical of voting by mail, assuming you can trust your elections officials. And if you can’t, your state has got bigger problems than vote by mail.

And that the votes get counted. :dubious:

I agree, it’s fantastic.

I think our vote verification system here goes a long way toward making sure that votes are counted.

I tend to submit my ballot into a ballot drop box about 3 days before the actual election, sooner if I know my choices are not subject to change. The next day, I check online to make sure the ballot has been received and counted.

If many people follow this process, it becomes apparent quite quickly if votes aren’t being counted – and more notably, which ones aren’t. The double-check is a rapid fraud detection mechanism.

Similarly, if polling is in radical disagreement with the actual voting results, a recount can be quickly done and ballots examined to determine if fraud occurred.

A minor nitpick about the bolded part: at least in the SoW, the canvass process that validates the election includes a review of ballots that can’t be counted automatically. The review is conducted by a panel made up of election officials and representatives from both parties; the ballot is rejected only if the panel can’t come to an agreement as to the voter’s intent, or there’s a clear violation such as marking more than one candidate without striking out the one(s) the voter didn’t want.

Apologies if that’s merely restating what you meant, but I thought a little clarification might be of value.

OttoDaFe, I honestly don’t know if Oregon conducts a ballot review such as you describe. I’ve always had the impression that if the ballot isn’t prepared properly to go through the optical counting process, it isn’t going to be counted. I could be wrong on that point, for sure. Now I’ll have to find out. :slight_smile:

I was more thinking about the discrepancies noted in Florida’s 2018 election as described by ThelmaLou. What might account for a higher percentage of younger voters’ ballots being rejected without fraud having occurred? Possibly unfamiliarity with a process – like how to properly complete a ballot – could account for such a discrepancy, especially if there is no review process in place such as Washington’s.

I do know that here, if you mark more than one candidate/measure, even if you strike out the one you don’t want, that item on your ballot will not be counted.

We discussed that vote in Wisconsin in another thread a while back. I posted an item about Democratic voter lawyer Marc Elias, who felt that the SCOTUS decision about mail-in ballot postmarks would come back to bite Republicans in November, possibly even swinging the election to the Democratic candidate. Somebody (possibly ThelmaLou?) pointed out that would require the Supreme Court to, y’know, actually honor their earlier decision on Wisconsin. :smack:

I came here to add a post to that thread, but found this thread instead. Here’s a bit of news in WaPo today, on the subject:

Unexpected outcome in Wisconsin: Tens of thousands of ballots that arrived after Election Day were counted, thanks to court decisions

The back-and-forth decisions by various courts was confusing, or at least certainly had me confused. This article clears that up, but you have to read the whole article because the details of those back-and-forth decisions are buried kind of in the middle.

TL;DR (I think, if I finally understand it right, which is still not at all certain): Established mail-in ballot law in Wisconsin held that mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day. That meant, of course, that they would have had to be mailed even earlier than that. A big problem in Wisconsin was that a LOT of voters hadn’t even received their ballots by Election Day.

The Governor declared that mail-in ballots could be received by six days after the election and still be counted. That meant, perhaps, that people could vote even after Election Day and still be counted. The Republicans argued against that and took it all the way to SCOTUS. Then SCOTUS agreed that allowing voters to vote even after election day could significantly change the nature of the election and disallowed that, much to the delight of the Republicans, which is what they wanted.

(This case is totally separate from the other case, that the Governor had tried to postpone the entire election until some later date.)

Okay, here’s the part that I missed earlier but I think I understand now: SCOTUS decided that mail-in ballots must be postmarked (not received) by Election Day, meaning that they could still be received on a later date. This was a decision that neither party has asked for. This ruling, that ballots could be received late and still be counted as long as they were mailed on time, allowed for a whole bunch of ballots to be counted that the established law would have rejected.

THAT is the point of the article I just linked. If SCOTUS stands by this rule in November, it might mean that a lot of mail-in ballots get counted that might otherwise not be counted. This is the situation that Marc Elias seems to think could swing the nationwide vote for the Democrats.

Nitpick: you have to sign the envelope the same as you signed the voter registration card. Or at least close enough that they look the same to a trained person. And yes, they are all compared, at least in my county, and I expect other counties too.

If your signature doesn’t match because it’s changed over the years, they’ll have you sign a new registration card when they call you in to verify you did sign it.
As for the deadline to get the ballots in, for Oregon they have to be in by election day. The postmarks on the envelopes are irrelevant. AFAIK, this will not change, despite the Supreme Court ruling.

The danger is that what counts as a “properly” submitted ballot is decided by humans, with potentially human biases. Like, what does it mean for the signatures to match? One can envision, for instance, an election official deeming that “LaTonya Jackson” doesn’t match “La’Tonya Jackson” because of the apostrophe, but that “Billy Bob Beaufort” is close enough to “Billy-Bob Beaufort”, despite the hyphen.

But that can be remedied through the process we employ here in Oregon.

If there is a determination that the signature doesn’t match, the elections board must contact the voter and give them 14 days to prove they were the person who signed. If there were a sudden spike in determinations that signatures weren’t valid, it would become quickly apparent.

That is a nitpick. Your name, as it is printed on the return envelope near the signature line, is taken from the signed voter registration card – if you registered to vote that way. Most people in Oregon are automatically registered to vote when they obtain a driver’s license or identification card. They do not specifically register to vote, so there is no voter registration card. So if you want to nitpick, do it properly: You must sign your name as you signed it when you were registered to vote, irrespective of whether that was automatic when you obtained your driver’s license or identification card, or completed a formal voter registration card.

I’m going to assume you were not directing this comment at me, since I made the same point in my Post #2. Like you, I don’t think the SCOTUS ruling applies to how Oregon conducts their Vote By Mail process.

Yes, I was addressing Senegoid’s post immediately above mine. He discusses the Supreme Court ruling that Wisconsin absentee ballots were valid in their primary based on the postmark being by Election Day, even though their law about absentee ballots is like Oregon’s in that it says they have to be in by Election Day and the postmark is irrelevant. I don’t know if that ruling is narrow so that it only applies to Wisconsin, or even just to that particular election, or if it’s not narrow but no one has considered the ruling in regards to Oregon. Either way, I haven’t heard anyone say Oregon’s rule is going to change because of it.

Personally, I think depending on postmarks is not the best idea. Getting a legible postmark on mail is iffy at best. Having enough drop boxes in convenient locations so people voting late don’t need to mail ballots should be required.

The epidemic could make things difficult about drop boxes. They need to make them accessible to people driving by without getting out of their cars. Some of them are already that way, but not all. The closest drop box to me is in the Hillsboro library, but that’s been closed since the middle of March. Hopefully they’ve moved the box to be outside the building.

I don’t think there is any basis for that ruling to bootstrap to the State of Oregon. Quoting the relevant portion from ThelmaLou’s quote above with my bold:

This was not a case enjoined by the State of Oregon and the State of Oregon is not in dispute over its vote-by-mail process, so there is no basis for SCOTUS to rule, unbidden, on Oregon’s election process. (IANAL.)

Agree. Our law is clean on this point and no need to muddy it up. I have more than once procrastinated voting to the point where I had to drive to my nearest drop box on election night eve, a round trip of 36 miles. I’ve always done it because I can’t imagine not voting.

Now I do it exclusively that way so I don’t have to worry if the ballot will make it in time. The inconvenience of the drive is worth the peace of mind over a postmark and a worthwhile exchange. I have a feeling this year, I’ll turn in my vote very early.

Fortunately, Oregon solving this comparatively minor impediment is simple compared to what other states face to expand their vote-by-mail rights.

The relevance of received/postmarked on election day for the Wisconsin election was about what emergency actions can be taken when a public health crisis combined with legislative inaction make it impossible for accommodations to give people safe options to vote to be universal.

People were going to be disenfranchised in Wisconsin unless the deadline was pushed back so that everyone who requested them could receive and return their absentee ballots. The contextual relevance of received vs. postmarked on election day will only matter if that happens again in the GE - that a state is unable to deliver absentee/mail-in ballots in time for people to vote, and the legislature doesn’t make any proactive decisions to prevent this crisis from occuring. It may well happen again (more likely in a state other than Oregon that has less experience with most or all of the voters voting by mail) and while the “postmarked” rule will be better, if there is anyone who requests a ballot and doesn’t receive one before election day, they will be forced to either give up their right to vote or risk their own health.

The S.C. ruling might come to bite republicans somewhat, but only if they are already partially successful in using the quarantine to disenfranchise voters.

I admire your dedication to exercising your sufferage. For many years, I lived only a mile or so from the county election office. Every election day, I would bicycle over there and drop off my ballot. I could avoid the line of cars with the bike.

Then I got a temporary job with the Elections Office as a member of the Election Board. That’s a fancy title for a group of people whose job it is to remove the ballots from the envelopes. On busy election nights (i.e. November elections in Presidential years), the work would take us until sometime after sunrise the next day. So I started bringing in my ballot early, so it would be among those processed on the Thursday or Friday before the election.

Last year, I moved to another town, which would put me some 10-12 miles from the Elections Office. But then they moved the Elections Office to the same town (which happens to be the County Seat), so I’m only 5 miles or so from it. But there’s a closer drop box, so I don’t need to go to the Elections Office to vote.

Moving ballot boxes will be the only change visible to the voters. But they’ll also have to change procedures of the Election Board, since their usual work conditions violate social distancing. Also, most members of the board are retirees, and I expect many of them will decide not to risk the work this year. (I no longer work there, but I may call them up and see if they need help, especially for the general election, which promises to be even busier than usual this year.)

Isn’t working elections fun? :slight_smile: It’s many years now, but from the mid 80s to early 2000s, as a deputy clerk in the California county where I worked, I was by law required to help as an election official if needed on any election night. For lighter elections most often held in May, our county Clerk-Recorder and her staff could handle the night’s festivities without much help from court staff. But we were always needed for November elections.

When I was a newb, I was more than once assigned to Tweezer Detail. This job consisted of taking card stock ballots, already opened and stacked, and literally tweezing off little slivers of card stock still stuck to the main ballots so they would go smoothly through the tallying machines.

As I became more experienced and because court staff already had good relationships with the Sheriff’s deputies who escorted ballots from precincts, I was always assigned to that job. The deputies would race with us in their Sheriff’s prowl cars to far flung precincts as fast as we could go so we could haul huge sacks containing completed ballots back to the main courthouse for counting.

Like you, we pulled all nighters for heavy elections. It was great fun, accompanied with a sense of accomplishment. Everyone took their jobs very seriously – even lowly Tweezer Detail. The notion of messing with ballots… it would have been a violation of a sacred trust. No one would ever have done it.

I am comforted always by paper ballots, even if they are more work to count.

You’re absolutely right that how we both counted will endanger those responsible for the count and they will likely need help. Great idea to offer yours, and kudos to you! I’d do the same but I’m more high risk. However, I will encourage everyone I know to vote early this year. Not like it’s a mystery how we want to vote: Straight ticket Dem. I’ll probably return my ballot this year on the day after I receive it.

Note that the MAGA hat wearing covidiots are pushing the fact that vote by mail is rife with fraud as Democrats dumpster dive to find thrown away whole ballots, take them to the local DNC where they are filled in by Democratic party workers, signatures are forged and they are mailed in.

I kid you not. :eek:
Despite the fact that there is no evidence of this ever happening.

And of course if you got a vote by mail, and decided to vote in person, there’d be a discrepancy.

I’m 65, so technically high risk too. But I’m in real good shape compared to your average 20-year-old, so maybe that’ll reduce my risk. (I haven’t heard of anyone who’s really in shape, as in close to professional-athlete-level of conditioning, who’s needed to be hospitalized for Covid-19. Maybe I’m fooling myself here.)
Someone inevitably brought up potential voter fraud. This is my favorite example of voter fraud: Steve Curtis, former Colorado Republican chairman, and at the time, a conservative radio talk show host who opposed all-mail elections, was the miscreant:

No doubt if he’d been successful, he’d bring that up on his show as an example of how easy it was to commit voter fraud. Personally, I can only remember a very few instances of mail-in voter fraud off the top of my head, but they were all promulgated by Republicans. Possibly selective memory there.

As a Coloradoan I love voting by mail and assuming its implemented half way competently I’m sure many states that vote that way this fall won’t switch back. As will all things there can be issues with Vote by mail/drop off. Apparently, one district here in Colorado forgot to empty a drop off box for the election last year.

Vote-by-mail absolutely terrifies Trump and the GOP, as we can see in his tirade over California mail-in-voting. This needs to become a priority for the Democratic party.