My Turn: Let’s rethink all-mail balloting

The all-mail balloting process had its pluses and minuses during the pandemic. As indicated in West Hawaii Today’s Jan. 22 article, it made voting easier for some, but more difficult for many of those who preferred voting in-person. For several reasons, I believe that all-mail balloting is not a good idea.

1. Privacy. With in-person voting, I vote as I wish. Others may attempt to influence me by providing me with their recommendations. These might be my spouse, my employer, the union, or my politically engaged friends or neighbors. I may take their advice or not, but my ballot will be private, and others will not know whether I voted as they directed. With mail-in ballots, there is a great opportunity for the politically engaged to pressure others to vote as directed. My employer, the union, my spouse or neighbor may “ask” me to bring my ballot so they can “help” me vote. They can then ensure it gets deposited properly so it gets counted. If I refuse, I set up a potential conflict.

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2. Current information. When all but a few needing absentee ballots vote on election day, we are voting with the same information available. It has not been unusual for new and sometimes significant information about a candidate or political agenda to emerge shortly before an election that may change some voters’ thoughts on how to vote. With ballots mailed out a month before the election and voters urged to mail them back soon so they will be counted, we likely will not all be voting with the same information.

3. Unengaged voters. One of the claimed “successes” of all-mail voting is the increased number of voters. But how many of those who hadn’t voted in the past did so because it was easier, and how many did so because of the encouragement and “assistance” received from someone else? At the extreme, in previous elections in other states, there were reports of people “assisting” those in nursing homes who were not mentally sharp with voting. More votes from the unengaged who are influenced by others is not a good thing.

4. Civic Ritual. I have voted on election day in Hawaii for over 40 years. It feels good to go to the polling place, complete my ballot in private, and deposit it knowing it will be counted. I don’t wonder if it might be rejected because I didn’t sign it the same way I signed previously. I don’t worry about my ballot getting lost in the mail. I enjoy seeing the poll workers and other voters showing their belief in the importance of voting in the election.

5. Fraud. I put this last on the list, as I believe the other reasons are sufficient, even if fraud were impossible. Mail-in voting does make fraud more possible. This can be stealing ballots from mailboxes, whether to attempt to vote them or to throw them away before they get picked up. It can be voting for persons who have moved away but who are still on the voting rolls and receiving ballots. Signature checking can reduce the risk, but it also may cause legitimate ballots not to be counted if the signature doesn’t look right. Showing an ID at the polling place eliminates these risks. A less clear form of fraud can be “helping” the less competent to vote or filling out ballots for others before they sign them. I doubt there was significant fraud in our last election. However, some elections are very close: in the one mid-term election my wife and I failed to vote in years ago, the mayor won by six votes. So even a little fraud can occasionally make a big difference, and if it is not seriously considered and addressed, it will become a greater problem in the future.

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All-mail voting was touted as making it easier for people to vote. Voting can be more difficult for those who work some distance from their homes. The law currently requires that employees be free from work at least two hours while the polls are open. That could be extended if necessary. A better solution might be more poll workers and voting booths available for those voting at the beginning or end of the day. Maybe we need more polling places in some areas. Making it easier to vote is a worthy goal, but all-mail voting is not the best solution.

Bill Hastings is a resident of Waimea.