Could Closing Polling Stations Actually Increase Voter Turnout?

May 12, 2016

I voted sticker on a t-shirt

America’s voter turnout void looks a lot like that half-eaten pint in your hand—once again, there’s a massive chunk missing. In 2012, just 53.6% of eligible voters cast ballots. And trailing behind our developed and democratic peers, unceremoniously sandwiched somewhere between Slovenia and Japan, we landed in 31st place among the 34 countries in the voter turnout department.

How Do We Counter the Trend?

Easy. Ditch the polling stations and take advantage of a centuries-old innovation—the mail. Yep, you read that correctly: one proven strategy for increasing voter turnout is to get rid of polling stations altogether and carry out all voting procedures by mail.

Currently, 22 states use vote-by-mail systems to at least some degree. And leaving the dabblers in their dust, Oregon, Washington and Colorado are three states that have recently gone all in, implementing universal vote-by-mail (UVBM) for all citizens, all the time.

States That Rock the Mailbox Vote

In Oregon, which claims “the most convenient voting system in the country” (and backs that assertion by consistently ranking as a national leader in voter turnout), registered voters receive a ballot two to three weeks before an election, giving them ample time to research issues, candidates, and platforms before marking an educated "X" in the box.

Colorado and Washington use a similar process. All registered voters receive ballots at their homes, where they fill them out and either mail them back or deliver them personally to official “ballot drop sites” across their states, like schools, libraries, police stations, county courthouses, and post offices, as well as strategically located curbside boxes available 24 hours a day.

Why Vote-By-Mail Gets Our Vote of Confidence

Strong voter turnout is essential to a healthy, thriving democracy—one that caters to all Americans. That’s why vote-by-mail is a process Ben & Jerry’s proudly supports. And when it comes to making voting easier for those hit hardest by voter suppression laws, including African and Hispanic Americans, the elderly and students—it works.

Oregon’s active voter turnout rate for 2014 was 70.9% —23 percentage points higher than the national average. And, according to Washington Monthly’s UVBM analysis, “Washington State had no U.S. Senate or governor’s race in 2014, but its 54% automatic voter registration (AVR) turnout still handily beat the national average.”

In addition to boosting turnout, UVBM eliminates ugly and ultimately vote-suppressing photo ID laws.

And, it saves money. Hiring hundreds of thousands of poll workers to man poll stations across the country is spendy. Since Oregon adopted UVBM, taxpayers have been saving approximately $3 million per election cycle.

Vote by Mail, Making Democracy More Accessible

In 2014, Colorado launched its first all-mail ballot and vote center system. There were no voter fraud scandals, and about 2 million voters cast ballotsa significant spike for the state. After the ballots were tallied, across a nation that posted its worst voter turnout in 72 years, the Centennial State celebrated with the fourth highest voter turnout in the country.

Is Your State Next?

With UVBM proving so successful in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, we are hopeful that other states will follow their lead. After all, any change that brings more people to the polls – and more voices to our democracy – is a change that we raise our spoons to.

Our democracy should represent everyone, and that means that everyone needs easy access to the polls. Join us in supporting an inclusive people-centric democracy that works for all of us.