How voting by mail changes the election

About half of Colorado voters are expected to vote before Election Day.
4 min. read
A ballot tent on Bannock Street. June 16, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) voting; vote; ballot; poll; election; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty;

Voters will get their ballots in the mail this week. Polling places open next Monday. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ballots get mailed to Colorado voters today, and they can vote at any point between the second they tear open that envelope and 7 p.m. Nov. 8.

We've got answers to many of the questions about voting by mail to make sure your vote gets counted and some thoughts on how voting by mail might change elections, for better or for worse.

The Denver Post's John Frank has a look at how campaigns are adjusting to Colorado's mostly-mail election.

About half of Colorado voters are expected to vote before Election Day, which means that big final push gets moved up by several weeks.

“This is one of the things that really makes Colorado unique,” Emmy Ruiz, Hillary Clinton’s campaign state director, told the Post. “Starting on Monday, when ballots go out, our message will be consistently: Ballots are in the mail. Keep an eye out for them. Return them. Return them, return them, return them.”

Campaigns will be watching returns from Republicans and Democrats to get a sense of their enthusiasm and adjusting their strategy accordingly. Of course, in this year, party affiliation might be a poorer guide to how someone voted than in previous elections.

Democrats also want to make sure college students and other young voters get their ballots at the proper address. Younger voters tend to lean Democratic, but they also might be registered at an address where they don't live right at the moment.

At a candidate forum earlier this month, Rep. Ken Buck, a former Weld County district attorney, recalled investigating cases of potential voter fraud that turned out to be a parent filling out a ballot on behalf of an adult child who was out of state.

Meanwhile, James Hoffman, a dean emeritus at Lewis and Clark Law School, has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that argues that "no-excuse absentee ballots" -- that is, voting by mail just for convenience -- undermines our civic process and enhances partisanship. By allowing people to vote early, states end up encouraging people to vote based on their preconceptions rather than wait for ALL the information that will be available to them by Nov. 8.

Imagine a town meeting convened to decide an important matter. For convenience, ballots are distributed when residents arrive. Yet numerous people return their ballots and leave before the time designated for public comments. At best it will be clear that those who left are not interested in anyone else’s opinions. At worst it makes a mockery of the democratic process that citizens thought they were engaged in.

As for the notion that in-person voting disproportionately disadvantages the poor and racial and ethnic minorities who may have less flexible jobs and face long lines to vote in person in many states, he argues that more polling places and a national voting holiday would be better solutions than mail elections.

A national holiday for voting and adequate polling places for all our communities would be lovely. I would also like a pony. But this is a country that increasingly doesn't even shut down for Christmas, where Black Friday now starts on Thanksgiving Day. Do we really think that low-income service workers would get the day off to vote, even if we did make it a holiday?

Hoffman cites evidence that voter turnout has gone down slightly at the national level as it has gotten easier to vote absentee and argues mail elections reduce the sense of urgency and engagement. But in Colorado, turnout increased slightly in 2014 compared to 2010, the last mid-term election before mail voting became widespread.

To Hoffman's point about waiting to make up your mind, it's not a civic sin to know what you believe and to vote based on those beliefs. This election has been going on for a long time already, and it's not unreasonable to think you have the information you need to cast your ballot.

And if you vote, campaigns will mark you down as a lost cause and stop calling and knocking on your door.

I say that as a late convert to mail voting. I always enjoyed the ritual of going to the polling place, being greeted by the volunteers who gave up their day to make democracy happen, getting my sticker. But none of that is enough to counter the convenience of voting by mail.

Do you have thoughts on mail voting? Let me know at [email protected] or @meltzere on Twitter.

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