Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Why I Love Vote-by-Mail

The first election that I voted in was the 1992 presidential election.

I remember walking off campus in Princeton, NJ, to the local elementary school to cast my ballot. I was 18 and excited to participate in our great American democracy.

Stepping into the voting booth with my ballot, I was suddenly faced with not just one decision, but a multitude of options that I was not prepared for. I knew who I was voting for in the presidential race, but just wasn't familiar with everything else on the ballot.

Leaving options blank on the ballot seemed like such a waste, but I didn't want to accidentally vote for something or someone that I didn't believe in.

Frankly, this first voting experience was a bit disappointing. I was glad that I voted in the presidential election, but felt like a let myself down, not coming into the voting booth a bit more prepared. It was like showing up to take the SAT without a #2 pencil and having never seen a practice test before. I was completely un-prepared.

Having learnt my lesson the first time, I tried to be better prepared in future elections. My then girlfriend (and now wife) would study the election handbooks that came in the mail and put together "cheat sheets" to take into voting booths in New Jersey, and then California. But, this process still felt broken. Lots of preparation was required, and inevitably, we would forget to study a particular issue and not know how to vote in the few silent, private minutes behind the voting curtain.

And then we moved to Oregon in 2002 and experienced a fundamentally better way to vote. For those that don't know, Oregon citizens ALL vote by mail. There are no polling places, no lines to wait in. Your ballot is mailed to your home a few weeks before the election and you can send it in (or drop it off) anytime between when you receive it and election day.

My first experience voting in Oregon was after dinner one night at my in-laws house. We cleared the dinner table, all got out our ballots, pulled together some research material and went through, vote by vote, issue by issue.

Sitting around the table, we could discuss the issues. Debate the pros and cons of candidates, and make truly informed decisions.

There was no time pressure. No excuse for not knowing about an issue. And, most importantly, no questions left blank.

This type of voting is so far superior to anything else out there - except maybe internet voting, if that ever comes. I like being able to vote, knowing that my ballot was filled out intelligently. It's just such a better experience than entering a voting booth.

And, as an added benefit, vote-by-mail seems to improve voter participation rates. Oregon ranked in the top 5 in the 2010 midterm election.

But, regardless of how you vote or who you vote for, just get out there today and vote. As a citizen of the US, it's a privilege and a fundamental responsibility.

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