You have probably read and heard enough about politics in the past few months to hold you until the next big vote. But this seems a good time to discuss modernizing our elections process — by going back to the future.
Should California switch to an all-paper ballot, mail-in vote, thus saving tens of millions of dollars each election on the latest in precinct voting machinery?
There is precedent for scrapping the nation’s precinct voting tradition. Several states have already done that. California experimented with such a change, allowing five counties to try out vote-by-mail-only in Tuesday’s mid-term election.
A network TV news show last week aired a brief segment on this paradigm shift in voting procedure, interviewing the former Oregon Secretary of State, a Democrat, the current Secretary, a Republican, and for the first time in months viewers witnessed functionaries in the two major parties actually agreeing on something — that all-paper, all-mail-in balloting is pure gold, as in tax dollars not used for traditional precinct voting costs being available for other uses.
The Oregon process isn’t strictly vote-by-mail. Instead, election officials put drop boxes for ballots throughout high-traffic areas, so a voter can mark his or her ballot, seal it in a secure envelope, and drop it off on their way to work or wherever they're headed.
The first example of mail-in voting we could find occurred in western Australia in 1877.
Critics see a potential for voter fraud. On the other hand, abundant evidence indicates mechanical voting machines are subject to all kinds of problems. There also is concern about using the mail to deliver a marked ballot raising questions about guarantees of a secret ballot.
We don’t see how a paper ballot is any more vulnerable to fraud than machinery that can be tampered with and/or hacked.
The five California counties that experimented with an all-mail-in election on Tuesday reported few glitches, but it’s really too early to tell if the experiment was a success. Based on the increasing popularity of mail-in voting here on the Central Coast, we predict that what was a standard voting procedure in generations past will make a strong comeback.
It’s not that we don’t trust machinery and computers. We use those devices every day in this business. It’s that we’ve come to understand that criminals and others with ill intent are learning how to beat those machines, and the tech folks are having a hard time developing solid defenses against cyber attacks and hacking.
Think of it this way — have you ever looked at your hyper-cool, overly-complicated smart phone and thought, oh, for the old days.
Many of us have been voting by mail for years, ever since strict limits on absentee balloting were changed. For one thing, voting by mail allows you to sit in your own home, talk the issues over with friends and family, and perhaps make smarter choices than you would when crammed into a tiny voting booth, knowing that impatient voters are lined up behind you.
About a quarter of all the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were mailers, and that number likely will grow in the years ahead.
Voter fraud is always a concern, and voting by mail is as vulnerable as any method. But at least with mail-in ballots, tax dollars aren’t being poured into precinct voting gear that is costly and vulnerable.
Going back to the future seems like a sound concept.