I’ve written a few times about the new MOVE act that sought to improve the voting process for military and overseas voters. It was well intended, and probably accomplished quite a bit. But as with any law, it seems, the goals of the drafters were largely unmet.
The first problem was the well documented failure of many jurisdictions across the country to comply with the acts provisions. With a year to prepare, these failures were inexcusable and largely preventable.
But the provision that I have been following that I believe has received too little attention is the emailing of ballots.
For most people with access to email, it seems to be the answer to most of our needs for speed and effiency. However, the voting of a secret ballot makes email problematic. So while we had a number of our FPCA voters request their ballots through email, I always had doubts about whether the process would work well.
For this first election, it seems to have fallen short of expectations for Champaign County. For this election, we had 213 voters who requested a ballot through email and 583 who requested it through regular mail. We had a 27% return rate for the email ballots and a 40% return rate for mail ballots. For military voters, who seemed to be the primary focus of the law, we had 16 out of 41 email ballots returned (28%) against 93 out of 155 mail ballots returned (38%).
From our side of this, it’s easy to see why. While the email can sound good, in practice it’s not easy. In the ideal scenario, you would need a printer that could print two different size envelopes as well as a ballot on legal size paper. Realistically, few people have the larger size transmittal envelope and many don’t even have access to legal paper. In order to avoid mailing charges, you need to print a special logo on the envelope that is mailed to our office. Regardless of your ability to have the preferred envelopes and paper, your ballot will need to be remade in our office.
I’m certain that a fair number of people who selected the email method came to find it frustrating and perhaps gave up. It will be interesting to see how many people switch their preferences for future elections.
It also speaks to the benefits of certifying our ballot even sooner. There were unnecessary delays at the state level that hopefully will be worked out in the coming years. By mailing and emailing ballots sooner, we give voters extra time to change their delivery method if they find their first choice to not be good for them.
Overall, I’d call the new law a success for Champaign County voters in the military or overseas.