In 1998, Oregon became a vote by mail state. It's the only state in the country that conducts elections completely by mail. Do you realize what that means?
No polls. No lines. No machines. And no little sticker that says "I voted" which to me, is a major bummer.
It all started when I received a ginormous booklet in the mail titled "Voters' Pamphlet 1 of 2: Measures". I started flipping through the 150+ page book, wondering why I had received such a thing, and what I was supposed to do with it. Upon further inspection, I realized that it's just an informational tool so I can be more educated about what state measures will be on the ballot. I never received anything like this in Nashville, and now I'm asking myself, "why not?" I mean, what a fantastic idea!
Why is the book so large, you ask? Because it details each measure that will be on the ballot, showing: the estimate of financial impact for each measure, an explanation of how they arrived at said financial impact, the complete text of the measure, and an impartial statement explaining the measure (in layman's terms). It also has 5-10 pages of arguments for/against each measure so you can read both sides of the argument. Anyone who wants to shell out $500 or can get 1000 signatures gets a space in the booklet for their argument. Wowsers! I mean, folks, this is democracy at its best. And I just love it!
A few days later, I received a second booklet, similar in size, titled "Voters' Pamphlet 2 of 2: Candidates". And, yep, you guessed it: same story here. It also has a description of each party platform (which is actually quite interesting). On a funny side note, check this guy out:
I'm pretty sure I would have asked for a retake.
So, let's talk about voting by mail for a minute. My initial reaction was not a good one. I mean, I like going to the polls. There's something symbolic about it. Standing in line has never bothered me much, and there is such a feeling of community when you're surrounded by people all motivated to do their civic duty. To me, voting by mail brings up questions about voter fraud, and it seems to me that it would be easier to conduct some sort of scammy voter operation by mail. But maybe I'm wrong. I must be, otherwise why would they do it?
I'll tell you why. Lots of reasons: 1) It's cheaper. 2) Voter participation is way higher. People with no car (which there are LOTS of in Portland) and people disabilities can vote from the comfort of their own homes, and they can get help reading the ballots. 3) People are more likely to vote on the measures and candidates (other than presidential) because they have time to research them carefully and can make an informed decision. 4) It's easier for counties and polling officials to conduct the elections.
About voter turnout / participation. It appears that Oregon leads the nation in voter participation. In the 2004 general election, voter turnout was 86.4 %, the 2nd highest turnout in Oregon's history. No, that's not a typo. 86.4 percent, my friends. The average voter turnout nationwide for that election was only 55 %. The highest turnout in Oregon history was only slightly more at 86.5 %, for the 1960 election between Nixon and Kennedy. And so far for the 2008 election, ballot returns are already up over 2004 numbers, so they're expecting to set new records again this year (like every other state, I'm sure).
Those numbers are something to be seriously proud of, so I'm pretty much convinced. Especially after seeing all over the news, people waiting for more than 5 hours in places like Florida to early vote. I have a feeling Oregon is going to be one of the few states that can handle the extra turnout. I was watching CNN a few days ago and they were asking people to write in with their early voting stories of woe, when one of my fellow Oregonians said it best, "Last night, my husband and I sat down with a cup of coffee and filled our ballots together in the comfort of our own home. I will mail them tomorrow knowing that my paper ballot says exactly what I want it to say with no electronic glitches or switches. Hooray for the Oregon mail-in vote!"
So, I'm embracing it. Even though I won't get a sticker this time. Of course, I could make my own sticker. That's an idea.