Vote by Mail After 20 Years of Experience in Oregon

 Fri Nov 06, 2020, last updated Thu Mar 24, 2022 -  Jim Deibele

There’s an excellent article in Vox   about vote by mail in Oregon, focusing on how it started and how it evolved.

It’s difficult to forge someone’s signature on a ballot. Not impossible, not if you have access to something with their signature, but difficult. And it’s hard to see that scaling to any numbers.

It’s pretty much impossible to insert fake ballots into the system. There are bar codes on the envelopes mailed out to voters and it’s pretty simple to reject any bar codes that don’t match what was sent out.

There are two situations that do lend themselves to a type of fraud: one is if the person(s) you’re living with force you to fill out a ballot in front of them, then take it and mail it or drop it off. The stereotypical situation would be a husband in a wife-beater shirt making his wife fill out her ballot. But it could be parents making children do this, it could be adult children making their aged parents do this, etc.

The other situation would be a group that makes its members bring their ballots to a place where their ballot could be checked. Again, the stereotypical situation would be a tyrannical employer making their employees fill out the ballots at work. But it could be a union or a church or something similar.

But again, here is where it’s hard to project the numbers being very large. Yes, it probably does happen that a spouse makes their spouse vote the same. But is that 1 in 1000? 1 in 10,000? 1 in 100,000?

And how likely is it that every employee or union member or churchgoer stays silent forever?

Balanced against this is that a potential voter does not have to take time off work. They are able to consult the Voter’s Pamphlet and any online resource - newspapers, political parties, single-issue groups, whatever - that they care to over weeks before they make up their minds.

Having lived in Oregon almost my entire life, I do miss a little bit going to a nearby school or church to vote. And to see other people voting.

But it’s incredibly convenient to have the option to put my ballot in the mail. It now doesn’t require a stamp. But in years past I would go to the nearest branch of the public library and put my ballot in a plastic bin with a slot and a padlock. And I’d see other people with ballots in hand doing the same.

This year, with Covid-19 restrictions, ballots can go in the library’s drop box anytime - 3am if you want - and the staff will put them into the bin and they’ll go off to the county election office.

Knowing a little bit about technology, I really, really like that my ballot is on paper. It can be checked over and over, by computer vision or just plain people.