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 up to five percentage points in general elections and significantly more in local or off-year elections. The added convenience of voting by mail serves primarily to boost 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.


Balloting by mail saves time and money. It reduces the logistical problems associated with in-person voting on Election Day, cuts down on the number of poll-workers required to run the election, increases opportunities to conduct voter mobilization, minimizes the appeal of last-minute attack ads, gives voters more time to fill out their ballots, and is better at deterring voter fraud than are the  photo-ID requirements often used with in-person polling.

There are 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 require voters to sign ballot envelopes so that their signatures cand be compared to the signatures on the voters’ registration records.- Election workers should 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 low voter turnout. Other measures must be taken to address the lack of civic involvement that now characterizes our democracy.


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


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


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


8) Election officials should contact voters by phone, postcard, or e-mail and give them an opportunity to correct ballotse deemed uncountable due to lack of a signature match.


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


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


11) 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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