Once again, Americans set a record low for voter turnout in November. And thanks to high absentee voting, dozens of key races were left in limbo for days or weeks after the election. But there's a solution: vote-by-mail.
In many Oregon elections, there are no polling places. Instead, all registered voters receive ballots in advance and have three weeks to mail them back. Unlike absentee ballots, vote-by-mail returns are counted on election night.
Mail-in voting reverses the much-lamented trend of falling voter turnout–an astonishing 68 percent of registered voters participated in Oregon's special U.S. Senate election last January. Past special elections were lucky to get half that number.
"Oregonians like it because it's convenient and lets them take time to go over these megaballots," says Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling, a strong supporter of vote-by-mail. Vote-by-mail has other advantages. Keisling estimates that the state could have saved $1.2 million if the vote had been entirely by mail, nearly $1.00 per vote. The reform also gives the public some relief from the barrage of campaign TV ads. As election day nears, most folks have already mailed in their ballots, so TV ads aren't cost-effective. Instead, campaigns each day ask the county clerks who hasn't voted, then use phone banks or mailings for direct appeals.
But vote-by-mail wasn't an option this November. Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed a bill that would have expanded the new system to all elections. So voters did the next best thing and voted absentee. A record 650,000 Oregonians cast absentee ballots this election, just under half of all votes cast in the state. Kitzhaber now says he will probably sign the bill, if he gets another opportunity.