Is mail-in voting all it's cracked up to be?

Friday, March 20, 2020
Chris Woodward (

voter casting a ballotThe chairman of the Democratic National Committee is calling for voting by mail, but one researcher is concerned about what mail-in balloting has done to his state.

The push from Tom Perez for mail-in balloting in primaries comes amid coronavirus concerns. One of the reasons for moving in this direction is that it would keep people from gathering in large numbers for long periods of time.

However, Paul Guppy, vice president for research at Washington Policy Center, says the mail-in balloting system Washington state went to did not get the increase in participation that was promised.

"This was kind of sold in our state as 'make voting easier; make it more convenient, and more people will do it,'" Guppy tells One News Now. "There was a slight uptick in participation in some races. In others there wasn't, but the point is this idea that it was going to be a shot in the arm to democracy, that there was going to be great, more participation, just never materialized."

Guppy thinks the reason is "fairly obvious."

"People vote for other reasons than convenience," he explains. "I don't think people don't vote because they think it's too difficult, so making … a minimal effort to cast a vote, especially when you're motivated to support a certain candidate or to participate in self-government mail-in balloting, just didn't make much difference there."

Another concern involves accuracy.

"The vast majority of people now sit in their home. They have an envelope that comes in the mail. They vote. They put the ballot in the envelope. They sign the outside of the envelope and then mail that in to the county elections officials," Guppy says. "When those ballots are received, the only identifying feature that officials have to go by is that written signature that's on the outside of the envelope, and they compare that with a signature which is on file that appears on a computer screen."


That amounts to a worker sitting at a table with a huge tray of envelopes. They are visually looking at signatures on an envelope, and then they look at a screen, and if they feel that the signature matches, they count that ballot.

Guppy says anyone not voting in person and not presenting any kind of identification just makes it harder to ensure that every vote is a valid vote.

"The third thing that has been lost is a little harder to measure, but it's the community exercise of voting with your neighbors," he adds. "There's definitely something about standing in the rain with your neighbors waiting to vote which makes you feel you're part of a greater democracy." 

That kind of group participation, Guppy says, has definitely been lost "because now people sit at their kitchen table, and they vote by themselves."


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