Embrace early voting

VOTINGEARLY.DA.110496.LWW - John Jordan of Cedar Rapids studies his ballot as he votes the day before election day at th
VOTINGEARLY.DA.110496.LWW - John Jordan of Cedar Rapids studies his ballot as he votes the day before election day at the Linn County Auditor's office. At right, John Sabotta, also from Cedar Rapids heads for the table with his ballot. (?OLOR)


With all this talk of voter fraud and Election Day access, and who is trampling rights and who is cheating and whatnot, it was refreshing to hear Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller offer up a simple suggestion: Why not just do the whole thing by mail?

Miller floated the idea on Iowa Public Television’s "Iowa Press" this week, where he appeared with state Secretary of State Matt Schultz. Schultz, concerned about possible voter fraud, has been on a signature verification kick since nearly half of last month’s ballots came in early or absentee. But I’m with Miller: Instead of casting a suspicious eye on Iowa’s love of early voting, why not embrace it?

Oregon and Washington are vote-by-mail states, and elections officials there say the system delivers consistently high voter turnout for less than the cost of holding elections at polling places.

In both states, ballots are mailed to every registered voter about two weeks before the election. Voters mark their choices, insert the ballot into a secrecy envelope, sign their name (yes, the signatures are verified) and pop it back in the mailbox. Want to save a stamp? Just hand-deliver your ballot. Bob’s your uncle.

As a one-time Oregon voter, I can vouch for the system’s simplicity. State officials say it’s secure and stable, too. Transportation snags, last-minute emergencies, plain-old forgetfulness — all those potential problems are minimized when you’ve got a two-week window in which to cast your ballot. Bad weather and long lines at polling places are non-issues.

So no surprise that both Oregon and Washington’s turnout for registered voters topped 80 percent last month — yet again, the country’s highest. The difference is even greater during the primaries, according to former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Kiesling.

In an Oregonian newspaper guest column last month, Kiesling, now director of the Center for Public Service at Portland State University, estimated that if every state adopted the Oregon system, we could expect to see a 10 percent increase in registered-voter turnout in general elections and as much as a 25 percent increase in participation in primaries — or an additional 20 million and 40 million new votes, respectively.

More votes, more stability, less money? Miller’s more than right — Iowa should take a good look at the feasibility of voting by mail

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