What I’m thankful for this Election Day: I don’t have to wait in a line at a polling location in order to vote. Washington is one of the two entirely vote-by-mail states in the country. Since I registered in late 2007, and have always voted in Washington, I have always voted by mail. For a long time, it never occurred to me that exclusively mail-in ballots were unusual in the U.S. – to literally “go to the polls” seemed like a quaint, 1950s sort of notion.
I guess that attitude might stem from being a Millenial, in an age where shopping online and having packages magically appear on the doorstep is the norm. In much the same manner, my ballot appears a couple of weeks ahead of Election Day in the mail, and I can send it back at my leisure. This year, I had my iPad beside me while I filled out my ballot, as well as the Voter’s Guide that was mailed to our household. The iPad was by far the more helpful of the two, since the Voter’s Guide had limited space and all information in it was ultra-condensed. Although I already had many opinions, there were a couple of measures where I felt more comfortable voting after a little more research. I spent quite a long time filling out my ballot.
Associated Press photo of an estimated 6-9 hour wait at a Florida polling site.
One of the things that strikes me about in-person voting is just how inconvenient it is. Right now election coverage is starting, and footage of ridiculously long lines is playing across the screen. What an annoyance it must be, particularly for those people who have to work today. This year in particular I’m thinking of the parts of the country impacted by Hurricane Sandy, and what people are already dealing with without having to worry about getting to a polling site. Voting in-person seems like an awful lot of effort to produce something as simple as a filled-out ballot.
Opponents of mail-in voting claim that mail is less secure, and your ballot is more likely to get lost somewhere in the system. However, in Spokane County, you don’t have to mail your ballot. If you are truly concerned, you can leave it at the auditor’s office. If you don’t want to use a stamp, you can drop it by a public library. And no matter how you choose to return it, you can check and see if your ballot was received by visiting the vote.wa.gov website. With a first and last name and date of birth, you can not only check to see if your ballot was received in the most recent election, but you can check all elections in which your ballot was cast (post-2005).
As for security, both Washington and Oregon use signature-based identification. They seem to actually check the signatures, too – I’ve had mine questioned once, and I had to return a witness-signed confirmation form through the mail. I’m not sure exactly what they look for, but at least I know they’re looking!
Overall, the only thing I really miss with absentee voting is the excitement of getting to “go vote.” That, and the cute little “I Voted” sticker.