WHY ILLINOIS SHOULD ADOPT UNIVERSAL VOTE BY MAIL NOW!
By Matt Flamm
WHAT IS UNIVERSAL VOTE BY MAIL?
A ballot is mailed to every registered voter between two and three weeks before Election Day. A voter does not need to apply for a ballot or go to a polling place.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF UNIVERSAL VOTE BY MAIL?
Universal Vote by Mail (“Universal VBM”) would decrease the cost of running Illinois elections by millions of dollars per year. There would be no need to recruit, train, and pay tens of thousands of election judges or to purchase and maintain voting machines and deliver them to polling places. Universal VBM has increased voter turnout everywhere it has been introduced because eliminating the need to apply for a ballot makes mail voting easier and more attractive.
IS THIS A NEW IDEA?
No. Oregon and Washington have had Universal VBM for more than 10 years. Colorado, Utah and Hawaii have adopted versions of Universal VBM, and other states are considering it.
In 2015, Cary Shepherd and I made a proposal for Illinois to adopt a system of “Universal Vote by Mail” (“Universal VBM”). You can read our full proposal by clicking here, or you can read the summary press release by clicking here. Since then, more voters have chosen to vote early or by mail, and Election Day turnout has continued to fall. It has become harder to recruit and train qualified election judges.
CAN A VOTER CHOOSE TO VOTE IN PERSON?
In Colorado, the county clerk maintains “polling centers” starting 15 days before the election through Election Day. Eligible voters can visit any polling center in their county to register to vote and/or to vote in person. Colorado’s “polling centers” are very much like our early voting sites, but they stay open for one more day (Election Day).
WHAT IF I DON’T TRUST THE MAIL?
Universal VBM states have secure drop boxes near public buildings where voters can deposit their ballots.
DOES VOTING BY MAIL INCREASE VOTE FRAUD?
No. In a recent report titled “The False Narrative of Vote-by-Mail Fraud,” the well-respected Brennan Center for Justice rebutted claims that mail voting is subject to abuse. “Despite [the] dramatic increase in mail voting over time, fraud rates remain infinitesimally small. None of the five states that hold their elections primarily by mail has had any voter fraud scandals since making that change.” The New York Times editorial board said “states that use vote-by-mail have encountered essentially zero fraud.”
The Brennan Center report suggested seven tools to guard against mail vote fraud. Illinois already utilizes several of those tools including verifying voter’s signatures, bar-coding ballots, tracing mail ballots through email, and harsh penalties for vote fraud. Several others (including secure dropoff boxes and polling sites as an alternative way to vote) can and should be adopted.
Virtually all the opposition to increased mail voting comes from the right-wing Heritage Foundation and President Trump. The Heritage Foundation’s database shows 16 convictions for mail ballot fraud in Illinois over a 14-year period, an average of one per year
HOW MUCH WOULD UNIVERSAL VBM COST?
County clerks have objected to the cost of mailing ballots to every registered voter and paying return postage for ballots. But that cost would be outweighed by relieving them of the cost of recruiting, training, and paying tens of thousands of election judges. The savings would be especially important in light of the State’s unanticipated revenue shortfall.
HOW QUICKLY COULD UNIVERSAL VBM BE ADOPTED?
Putting this proposal into effect for the November 2020 General Election would be surprisingly simple:
- Delete or suspend all provisions of the Election Code relating to precinct polling places.
- Provide for the mailing of ballots to every registered voter between 14 and 21 days before Election Day.
- Create secure drop boxes near public buildings so that voters can be sure their ballots are received.
- Provide that early voting sites will remain open through Election Day.
If the General Assembly does not adopt this proposal in time for the November 2020 General Election, it should at least adopt it on a trial basis for the April 2021 Consolidated Election. Turnout in Consolidated Elections is always very low, and the percentage and number of voters voting on Election Day will continue to fall.