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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New Challenge for State and Local Dems: Full Court Press for Mail Voting

Associated Press reports on a study showing that Utah counties that permit voting by mail are seeing huge increases in turnout:

According to a report released by the Utah Foundation on Wednesday, all 70 cities in Utah that chose to vote my mail increased turnout compared to municipal elections in 2013 and 2011.
The report shows that voter turnout has dipped in recent decades, setting a record low in 2014 with only 28.8 percent of the state’s eligible voters participating in the general election.
Cities that saw major increases in voter participating include Salt Lake City, where canvass results show turnout was 54 percent — up from 13 percent in 2013 and 24 percent in 2011; Green River with 65 percent, up from 35 percent; and Moab with 62 percent, up from 16 percent.

Scott Keyes comments on the Utah study at ThinkProgress:

Researchers found that the effect was particularly pronounced in smaller communities rather than larger cities. Still, some cities saw major gains as well. Salt Lake City, for instance, saw its turnout rate soar to 55 percent in 2015 from 13 percent in 2013 and 24 percent in 2011.
“It’s been smoother on our end; it’s been smoother on (voters’) end,” Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen told the Deseret News after a primary election in August of this year. “We’ve just had a great response.”
Why is this election reform so successful? “Vote-by-mail can increase awareness about smaller elections and potentially have larger turnout in localized issues,” the report concluded. In addition, the convenience factor, especially for workers who can’t take time off on a Tuesday in November, can’t be overlooked. Further boosting vote-by-mail’s case is the fact that it saves states millions in taxpayer dollars by eliminating the need for in-person polling places.
Some caveats do apply. The authors acknowledged that vote-by-mail could have benefited from a “novelty” effect that may fade over time. In addition, whether mail-in voting would have the same outsized effect in non-municipal elections, such as those for Congress or governor, remains in question.
Three states currently conduct all their elections by mail: Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, which just recently joined the club. All three consistently rank among the top states by turnout, and far outperform neighboring states.

No doubt, Republicans will do everything they can to kill reforms which would expand voting by mail, wherever they can. But Democrats should not let this fact discourage them from making voting by mail a top priority. If mail voting can be instituted in communities in overwhelmingly Republican Utah, it can be done anywhere.
And, would it be too much to ask local media to force Republicans to explain their opposition to this much-needed reform? If the media won’t do its job, then local groups of citizens who care about saving American democracy should dog the obstructionists at every public appearance, and make them explain to their constituents on camera why they are against voting by mail.

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