June 4, 2018

Vote at home

Phil Keisling. Governing -  Those who are predicting, expecting -- or simply hoping for -- a surge of voter turnout, especially among younger citizens, in this year's elections need to reflect on these sobering percentage figures: Oregon (34), Idaho (32), Illinois (25), West Virginia (24), Nebraska (24), Kentucky (23), Arkansas (22), Ohio (19), Georgia (19), Indiana (18), Texas (17), Pennsylvania (17) and North Carolina (14).

... It's not news that turnout rates for primaries and for general elections in non-presidential-voting years, no matter how heated the races being contested, are far lower than in presidential years. For the last non-presidential primary cycle, in 2014, I and my colleagues at Portland State University found that all but a handful of states fell into the same pattern: overall turnout rates between 15 percent and 25 percent. The median age -- half older, half younger -- of those casting ballots in these contests? About 62.

Given the enormous role these primary contests play in determining election winners, what might help boost primary-election turnout? The evidence is strong that we should stop asking voters to travel to the polls. Instead, we should bring the ballots to the voters.

Three states -- Colorado, Oregon and Washington -- now hold "vote at home" elections, in which ballots are mailed to every active registered voter. In addition to simply mailing back their marked ballots, voters have the option of physically returning them to any one of hundreds of convenient drop sites or voting centers. Most now use the latter option, which is why "vote at home" is a more apt moniker than "vote by mail."

My own vote-at-home state, Oregon, is the only one of that trio so far to have held its primary. While our 34 percent turnout rate wasn't exactly stellar, so far it's the highest in this election cycle, double that of many other states. And Oregon had one of its hands, and arguably even one and a half, tied behind its small-d democratic back.

Oregon is one of just 11 states with fully closed primary elections that lock out non-affiliated voters (NAVs), those not registered by party. And in 2015, we became the first state to adopt automatic voter registration via the Department of Motor Vehicles. As a result, we have nearly 600,000 more registered voters than we did in 2014 -- most of them NAVs.

Even though Oregon voters cast 150,000 more ballots this year than in 2014, this huge surge of NAVs added to our denominator pulled down the state's overall voting rate. However, turnout among registered Democrats (43 percent) and Republicans (47 percent) actually rose compared to 2014 -- more than double the partisan turnout rates in another closed-primary state, Pennsylvania.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oregon's closed primary law discourages unaffiliated voters from casting ballots. I might register as a Democrat, if they weren't such corporate schills. I will only register for a party occasionally for a strategic purpose, like a primary vote for Bernie.