Vote by Mail Elections


Click here to download a printer-friendly version of our "Vote By Mail" report.

Vote By Mail (VBM) elections can increase turnout by four to five percentage points in general elections and significantly more in local or off-year elections. Rather than sparking participation among citizens who never vote, it appears that the added convenience of voting by mail serves primarily to retain higher participation among those voters who tend to vote in general elections by making it easier for them to vote in traditionally lower-interest local, special, or nonpartisan elections.


Among the other benefits of mail balloting are a reduction in logistical problems associated with in-person voting on Election Day, a reduction in poll-worker requirements, increased opportunities to conduct voter mobilization, minimizing the appeal of last-minute attack ads, providing more time for voters to fill out their ballots, the potential to save both time and money, and deterring fraud more efficiently than photo-ID requirements used with in-person polling.

There are also some potential problems with voting by mail, but these can be mitigated or eliminated by using the following recommended practices for Vote By Mail elections.



Recommended Vote by Mail Practices

1) Election officials should provide candidates, parties, and interest groups with free lists of registered voters and update them at least twice a week as ballots are returned so that candidates, parties and voters can see whose votes have been received.


2) Voters who do not wish to vote by mail should be able to cast ballots in private booths at vote centers staffed with trained election workers in the days leading up to and on Election Day.


3) Vote by mail programs should adopt the practice of requiring voters to sign ballot envelopes and comparing those signatures to the signatures on the voters’ registration files. Election workers must also use statewide databases to ensure that only one ballot is cast per voter.


4) VBM should not be viewed as a solution to the deeper problem of complete non-participation by much of the eligible electorate. Other measures must be taken to address the lack of civic involvement that reduces the quality of our collective decision-making.


5) In states that currently have permanent absentee voter programs, moving to elections where every registered voter is mailed a ballot should reduce the demographic disparities in voter turnout because the benefits of added convenience apply to all voters rather than those who self-select to participate in the program.


6) In VBM elections, ballots must be sent to all registered voters, including inactive voters.


7) Vote by mail elections should be heavily publicized via mailings, newspaper ads, and radio public service announcements at the time ballots are mailed out and in the final days before an election.


8) Steps should be taken to deter, detect, and correct coercion and vote-buying while casting a Vote By Mail ballot.


9) Election officials should contact voters by phone, postcard, or e-mail if their ballot is deemed uncountable due to lack of a signature match and give the voter the opportunity to correct it.


10) Election officials should work closely with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure timely and accurate delivery of ballots.


11) Jurisdictions using Vote By Mail must also maintain in-person polling alternatives to allow disabled and language assisted voting on accessible equipment.


12) Election officials should allow citizens to use election headquarters as their voter registration address and then allow these citizens to pick up ballots at election headquarters during the entire VBM election period.


Click here to download the rest of our report, "Getting it Straight for 2008:  What We Know About Vote by Mail Elections, and How to Conduct Them Well."


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