OP-ED: The Case for Mail-Only Balloting in Long Beach

As reported here, elected Los Angeles County Supervisors recently approved “a $15-million contract with Palo Alto consultant Ideo for the design of a more modern way to record votes.”

According to the article: “The current (county) system is known as InkaVote and requires voters to mark a paper ballot with their selections.Under the new system, projected to roll out in 2020, voters would make their selections using a touch screen, and the voting machine would then print a paper ballot to be tallied.”

Apparently the $15M of your tax dollars will only cover design of the new touch-screen system, not purchase or install any of the new machines themselves. A great government contract if you can get it. Particularly when, as the article also mentions, your company doesn’t have to compete for the contract.

Let’s set aside the inherent lack of wisdom of allocating $15M of LA County taxpayers’ money in a no-bid contract to a firm not located in the county. The focus of this column is, instead, the inherent lack of wisdom for jurisdictions to continue to bear the expense and administrative headaches of using physical polling places and balloting machines -of any kind- in order to facilitate the People’s right (and responsibility) to vote.

I propose that Los Angeles County (and Long Beach in particular) join other jurisdictions throughout the nation in conducting their election balloting exclusively by mail. Mail-In balloting is certainly nothing new. Voters in Long Beach have been able to vote by mail, either election-by-election or as Permanent Absentee Voters for decades.

Mail-Only balloting can (and should) be less expensive to administer then typical hybrid (mail-in/polling place) voting. When the State of Oregon adopted Mail-Only balloting, a subsequent study found that “what does seem apparent is that an all-mail system is less expensive to administer than a ‘hybrid’ system of polling place and absentee balloting.”

In more succinct terms, Mail-Only balloting is easier to conduct administratively.

With Mail-Only balloting, the State determines the type of physical ballot that can be used, statewide, and then approves one or more ballot counting systems which individual counties and cities can then choose from among for local ballot tabulation. Jurisdictions would no longer need to establish and staff polling places. Long Beach’s City Clerk can receive all ballots (rather than just some) through the mail and then continue to tabulate them in full public view in a central location as has been the case for decades.

Finally (and this, to my mind, is by far the most important reason to change), Mail-Only balloting helps increase voter participation. Long Beach’s voter participation rates have become so abysmal as to be outright embarrassing. In the last Long Beach General election, for example, a pathetic 20.77% of registered voters bothered to participate in one way or the other. Just 1/5 of Long Beach’s registered voters decided for the other almost 80%, who would represent the entire city as Mayor and who would serve the entire city as City Attorney.

This is despicable. Particularly in such a diverse city in which so many (particularly who read LB Post) seem so engaged in political issues.

All three states which currently use Mail-Only balloting (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) credit this change with increasing both voter registration and participation in those states. I think this change could do the very same for California, Los Angeles County, and Long Beach, as well.

What do you think?

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