Arrow-right Camera


Mail-In Ballot Stamps Out Civics

Mon., June 9, 1997

Elections officials think as many as 70 percent of Spokane County’s registered voters will cast ballots in next week’s statewide election. Imagine, 70 percent.

That would be substantially higher than the normal turnout - except you can’t call it a turnout. Spokane County decided to conduct this election by mail. There are no polls at which to turn out.

Voters are following a campaign restricted to the media, then punching their ballots at home and turning them over to their postal carriers.

They barely have to turn over, let alone turn out. Not for rallies. Not for speeches. Not for debates. Not even for the central act of self-rule - going with their neighbors to the precinct polling place and voting.

Yes, we may get 70 percent participation on June 17. What’s more, a mail election will cost taxpayers less than transporting voting machines out to the precincts and hiring workers to attend them all day.

With advantages like those, what could possibly be wrong with voting by mail?

For starters, the strict, closely monitored handling that ballots receive in a traditional election offers far more protection against tampering than dropping them in a mailbox to be intermingled with other non-election mail and resurface a few days later at the Courthouse.

In addition, individual voters will be making up their minds in isolation, in time as well as place. Thousands of votes have been cast already; others will be cast throughout the coming week. It will be impossible for public deliberation to occur at a pace that builds to a collective decision based on shared information.

And, if you’re eager to know how county residents voted, don’t expect to find out election night or even the next day. Ballots have to be postmarked by midnight June 17. Officials will have to wait several more days before announcing a reasonably final count.

But the most significant harm done by all-mail elections is the effect they have on social connectedness. Encouraging voter participation by making it effortless ends up discouraging citizen involvement.

Community is more than the sum of the individuals who live in it. Community includes the way its members pool their talents and resources to resolve shared problems or celebrate common achievements. It’s the way they formulate and voice their collective will.

For many, voting by mail is a convenience or even a necessity. In a conventional election, they have that option. But that option shouldn’t be forced on those who recognize the difference between voting and paying the Visa bill.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Doug Floyd/For the editorial board

Click here to comment on this story »