“Time Is of the Essence”: How States Can Shore Up Mail Voting


The Appeal: As many states postpone primaries due to the coronavirus outbreak, Oregon still plans to hold its May elections. “Because Oregon votes by mail, we do not have to be concerned about social distancing issues at polling places that so many other states are struggling with,” Secretary of State Bev Clarno said last week. “Many states are looking to implement our vote by mail system as a safer way to conduct elections in November.”

Oregon adopted a vote-by-mail system in 1998, and four other states have followed since (Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, and Washington). In these states, all registered voters receive a ballot; they then mail it back or drop it off at a designated location.

Calls to expand vote-by-mail nationwide are now ubiquitous in the face of social distancing.

California is moving in that direction. Officials in Arizona and New Mexicowant authorization to send ballots to all voters. Advocates and scholarsmade the case for universal mail voting weeks ago. And some federal bills would help states get there.

In many states, though, implementing vote-by-mail would require a lot of work. It is a shift that raises challenges ranging from logistics and capacity to concerns about voter access and safeguards against suppression.

To unpack these challenges, I talked to Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund who in 2016 co-authored “The New Realities of Mail Voting” with the Bipartisan Policy Center. A former elections administrator in Arizona, Patrick was appointed to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration by President Barack Obama.  Read more.