From The Archives -- Colorado, Utah Show How Mail-In Voting Can Work

[ Posted Wednesday, June 5th, 2024 – 16:01 UTC ]

Continuing our journey into the past, we take another look back four years ago, to June of 2020. I'm not going to do these strictly in order, because this one seemed like a really good balance for the negativity (no matter how well-founded and later-proven) of yesterday's article.

Today, here's a column celebrating the concept of mail-in voting. I haven't taken a close look at individual state laws yet, but I do wonder how many of the states that significantly expanded mail-in voting for the 2020 election have kept the lenient rules, and which ones have just gone back to the way they used to do things before the pandemic forced changes. But here, at least, was a look at a few states that did it right last time around.


Originally published June 30, 2020

Every so often I like to tempt fate by writing an article which could easily (and monumentally) be proven wrong within mere hours. Today is one of those days, because I feel pretty confident in predicting that Colorado and Utah will essentially show the rest of the country how a mail-in election should be done. I seriously doubt we'll see scenes of frustrated voters not being able to cast their ballots in a timely way, because with universal mail-in voting, that's not really a problem. No long lines, no machines that don't work right, no poll workers who don't know how to operate the machines, no voter-suppression efforts (both overt and covert) at all. And while Colorado is at the end of a long journey from being a purple state to a very blue one, Utah is still about as staunchly Republican as it gets -- proving that mail-in voting is not a partisan issue at all. Or it shouldn't be, at the very least.

Of course, Utah and Colorado had the good sense to be prepared for an election like 2020, even though they likely never even considered how it would benefit them with the country locked in a viral pandemic. It's doubtful the subject even came up when the two states decided to go the way of universal mail-in ballots. But it sure seems downright serendipitous now, in hindsight.

Colorado and Utah weren't the first states to go this route, it's worth mentioning. Oregon and Washington state were pioneers in this movement, and proved that it was not only possible but actually beneficial to hold elections this way. Voter participation goes way up when the state plans ahead and has a good mail-in voting system in place. While Donald Trump and plenty of his followers seem to think that this is all some sort of evil Democratic plot, the reality is that neither party benefits -- the voters are the biggest beneficiaries. More people voting because it is far easier to do so is a good thing for small-d democracy, not big-D Democrats. Otherwise, why would Utah have ever gotten on board?

There are multiple benefits from mail-in voting, as well as a few drawbacks. The biggest benefit is the ease of voting, of course. Registered voters get their ballot in the mail early, they fill it out whenever it is convenient for them, and then they either mail it in or physically drop it off at a collection site on Election Day. In Colorado, one county posted some amusing videos of a drive-up dropoff point, with people voting from horseback, rollerblades, skateboards, and even (although there is not a drop of water in sight) a large raft. Casting your ballot this way is not just quick and easy, in other words, it can also be fun.

The second big benefit is everyone is voting using paper ballots. No "paperless voting machines" at all is a very good thing. Recounts and audits are possible, in other words. This raises everyone's faith in the election process, and is therefore a big (and nonpartisan) benefit.

The biggest drawback to the mail-in system is speed. Election night results may become a thing of the past, and people will just have to get used to waiting days (or even weeks) for the election results. Just today, races were called in Kentucky from their primary last week, for instance. This may be an incredible shock to the public nationwide, if we don't get the presidential election results on Election Day, but people will have to adapt.

There's a built in conundrum with counting mail-in ballots. They take longer to process, since each ballot must be verified and then fed into a counting machine, all by hand. But the biggest problem is that in most states no counting of ballots is allowed before Election Day. This is understandable, because it would be very hard to count ballots in the days preceding an election without the data being leaked to the press. And knowing your candidate is already losing big -- or even winning big -- might just affect how many people bother to vote. So banning any tabulation before Election Day itself is reasonable. Also, in some states ballots can be postmarked on Election Day and still count, which means they won't even arrive until after Election Day. This further extends the vote-counting period.

Still, even though it might require patience on the part of the voting public, mail-in balloting is far superior to in-person balloting. Just ask people who live in states where it is universal -- they'll tell you (Democrats and Republicans alike). People love it, which is why so many more of them vote. You don't have to take time off work, you don't have to go to a polling place (that may be overly inconvenient to get to), and you don't have to stand in line at all. You can vote at midnight or in your pajamas, or whatever. You can then drop it in the mail with ease, or you can retain the tradition of going down in person and handing your ballot in yourself. Even from the back of a horse (in some places).

States like Utah and Colorado planned ahead, which is why their primaries will probably go very smoothly. They're used to universal mail-in voting, so there will be no learning curve this time around. They're used to handling the ballots that come in, so no change in procedure was even necessary. That is simply not true for many other states. Some are so restrictive that they only get a tiny fraction of their total vote by mail each election. Some are less restrictive, and are used to at least a goodly fraction of the total votes being cast by mail. These states face enormous challenges in the 2020 election, because they've got to either invent a new system or shift gears in a major way in order to handle the expected flood of mail-in voting this November. Some will get it right, but others will have problems.

But even with a learning curve, tens of millions of American voters are going to experience mail-in voting for the first time this year. And it's a pretty safe bet that a majority of them are going to like the new system -- so much so that they demand their state governments make it easier and smoother the next time around. Resistance to mail-in voting is going to be a lot harder after this election cycle, that's my rather optimistic guess at any rate.

Universal mail-in voting can work, and it can work swimmingly. As Colorado and Utah are about to prove today. The other states should heed this lesson well, in order to avoid chaos this November. Again, I am writing this hours before the polls have even closed and without having heard much of anything about the voting process in either state, so by dawn tomorrow I may wind up with a lot of egg on my face. But I feel pretty safe in going out on this particular limb and predicting that we simply will not see "massive problems at the polling sites" media stories tonight out of either Utah or Colorado.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


One Comment on “From The Archives -- Colorado, Utah Show How Mail-In Voting Can Work”

  1. [1] 
    dsws wrote:

    Any other Weigantians watch the Starship flight?

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