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Mail-in ballot election

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Mail-in ballots
A mail-in ballot election is an election that is conducted solely through the use of mail-in-only ballots.

Election costs

  • The cost of administering a mail-in election was estimated at $9.00/voter in California in April 2010.[1]
  • The cost of running elections at polling booths in the Washington State primary in 2009 was $25 and the cost of running polling booth elections in the Washington State general election in 2009 was $4.27. According to Sam Reed, those costs were "much higher than the vote-by-mail average."[2]

In states


Municipalities and school districts in California are authorized to vote on a mail-in-ballot only basis.

  • Up until 1978, absentee ballots could be cast only by people who were going to be traveling on Election Day or who had medical problems that made in-person voting difficult. In 1978, the California State Legislature loosened those rules, making it easier for people to cast absentee ballots as a matter of preference or convenience, rather that outright necessity.[3]
  • In 2002, Californians were allowed to register as "permanent absentees," rather than having to specifically request an absentee ballot for each election. As a result of this change, "...the number of mail voters began soaring."[3]

Changes in California as a result of a higher use of mail-in ballots include:

  • Pre-election polling is more accurate, because to the extent that pollsters are trying to determine who is likely voter, their task is made easier by knowing that some of those they are surveying have already, in fact, cast a ballot. Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, says that as a result of this, the accuracy of his organization's final-week polls has been improving with the growth in mail-in balloting.[3]
  • Jude Barry, a political strategist in San Jose, says: "In the past, campaigns could wait until the last few weeks before an election to contact voters. Now's it's over six to 12 weeks. So you really have to stretch your dollars over a longer period of time. And that becomes a real challenge to spend it wisely."[3]
  • Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book: "We've gone from an Election Day to an election month."[3]


Voters approved a 1998 ballot measure that requires voters to be given the option of a mail-in ballot at every election.[3]


  • Before 1975, Washington State Legislature said that all eligible voters could request a "no-excuse-needed" absentee ballot.[2]
  • In 1993, the legislature said voters could sign up for permanent mail-vote status, so that they'd automatically receive a ballot every election.
  • In 1993, Washington's 39 counties were authorized to conduct nonpartisan elections exclusively by mail.
  • By 2004, over 68% of Washington State's voters were casting their general election ballots by mail.
  • In 2005, the state legislature enacted a measure that said that counties in the state could decide to switch exclusively to "vote-by-mail."
  • By 2007, nearly all of the state's counties had switched to exclusive vote-by-mail, with the exception of Pierce County, which still retains some in-person polling places.
  • As of 2009, less than 2% of votes in Washington State were being cast at polling places.[2]

Advantages of mail-in voting

Sam Reed, the Washington Secretary of State, says that mail-in voting has these advantages:

  • The electorate can be better informed when they cast their vote because they can have "all of the election materials, Voters’ Pamphlet, campaign literature and so forth spread on their dining room table."[2]
  • Unexpected changes in work schedules or sudden emergencies leave voters without a way to vote under the old method, if they had not specifically requested or cast an absentee ballot.[2]
  • With mail-in ballots, people don't have to know where their polling place is, which is an advantage for voters who do not in fact know where the polling place is.
  • Vote-by-mail is more convenient for people who are "...too busy with their hectic schedule to go across town to vote."[2]
  • People can be in a calm frame-of-mind when they vote by mail: "People can find time that is relatively calm, such as late at night or on the weekend, and fill out that ballot."[2]
  • Voter turnout has increased in his state since mail-in balloting was implemented.[2]