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Maria Ehsan Headshot

What Voting in the Future Looks Like

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I have the good fortune of living in Washington state. I was born and raised here, so a lot of the forward thinking and progressive values that the people of this state have are something I grew up with.

One of our most impressive and forward thinking systems is that my state votes entirely by mail. Like Oregon, we don't have polls anymore. It's a 100% absentee ballot system. How did we get here? We started by offering no-excuse permanent absentee ballots. Anyone could register for an absentee ballot on a permanent basis and have their ballot always mailed to them. It got to be so successful that election officials realized it would be efficient to move to an all mail system where everybody gets an absentee ballot. Oregon became the first state to do this in 2000, and most of Washington state followed in 2008.

Let me tell you why this is fantastic. You receive your ballot in the mail 2-3 weeks before an election - this is for all elections: primary, general, and special elections. The beauty of receiving your ballot in the mail is that you'll never miss participating in an election. Except for once every 4 years, most people don't remember the date of every election. You have the comfort and ease of filling out your ballot at home whenever you like. You can go through your election guide, research issues on the Internet, and complete your ballot as you go long. The voting process can be done with anyone, anywhere, at any time. It just couldn't be easier.

Not only is it easy, but also it's effective. If you look at voter turnout, Oregon and Washington have the highest in the country. A few weeks ago, there was an excellent piece on this in The New York Times and I couldn't agree more. Vote by mail is the wave of the future.

Look at what happened this weekend in Florida. They simply don't have the capacity to handle all voters. People had to go to 2 or 3 different places to find a polling station that has capacity to vote early. That is preposterous. We encourage people to vote but then don't provide enough polling places. A friend of mine spent 4 hours in line to vote in Washington DC on Saturday. We can't expect people to do that in order to vote. They have to work, take care of children or family members. It could be cold, hot, raining, etc. You can't have a person stand outside for 4 hours for something that is their right and planned years in advance. After all, it is the job of government to provide for free and fair elections.

Today, with so much attention on voter registration and civic engagement, the voter turnout has increased. Polling places will only get further strained with an increasing population.

I urge state elections officials to move to an all mail voting system. Think of the taxpayer money that is saved! You don't need to pay for voting systems, rent for polling locations or even pay poll workers. And you don't need to worry about poll workers driving boxes of ballots to the county election office. What if people get in an accident on the way there? What if someone decides to drive off with the ballots? It's so easy to steal. Once, I volunteered at a polling place as an observer, and I saw numerous opportunities for poll workers to misplace ballots. When you remove the number of hands that touch ballots, you reduce the amount of fraud. There have been very few cases of fraud in Oregon or Washington. The system has worked effectively and even more importantly, in fact most importantly; it's reduced disenfranchisement of voters.

Americans deserve to vote, and we deserve a system that works properly. The Oregon and Washington system works best. I'm sure we'll see on Tuesday that these states again have the highest voter turnout.

Maria Ehsan