An increasing number of Marin residents vote by mail (more than 65% in the last election). I know I’m one because, when the kids were little, there was always the chance that I might forget that it was election (at least for off-season elections) or that a sick child could keep me away from the polls even if I did remember. I still vote by mail now, simply because I am forgetful and I lose track of time. I usually fill the ballot out on election day and drop it off at my local polling station. My mom votes by mail because her mobility is limited.
My mom and I represent the good reasons for voting by mail. Here’s the really bad thing about absentee voting: The absenteeballots go out very early. When those people who are not procrastinators receive them, they vote immediately and pop the completed ballot in the mail. Very efficient, but it also means that these busy bees deny themselves the opportunity to see how things play out in the weeks and days leading to the election. They’ve essentially locked themselves into a vote they may deeply regret when there’s an October surprise. Of course, if they’re die-hard whatevers, it’s unlikely that their vote will change unless something absolutely shocking occurs right before the election. Unlikely, but still possible….
These aren’t just idle ruminations. The Marin County grand jury has proposed that, to save the county significant sums of money, everyone must vote by mail:
The grand jury, in a report released last week, suggests that moving to an entirely mail ballot election could save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The Elections Department estimates that an election in Marin County costs about $1 million. If Marin County were to go to 100 percent vote-by-mail, the Elections Department estimates that the county would save between $100,000 and $200,000 per election,” the report states.
Members of the grand jury think it might lead to a more involved electorate. I think the opposite will happen: People who wouldn’t normally vote by absentee ballot will lose their ballots in their in-boxes. Then, on election day, when their only choice to to drive up to the Civil Center if they want to cast their vote, they’ll just blow it off — at least if they’re in the comfortable Democrat majority. (Hey, maybe this mail-in-ballot thing is a good idea, after all….)
What I’m worried about is that converting the system to one that’s only by mail-in ballot somehow corrupts voting by moving it so far forward from an actual election day that we create a disengaged voter who just votes along party lines without any regard to late-breaking data (or even the possibility of late-breaking data). In Marin, it really doesn’t matter, given the 65%+ Democrat majority, but it seems to me that this is important in swing-vote counties, where late-breaking information can change people’s minds.
What do you think?