By: Matthew Catron
Voting can be cumbersome and inconvenient. Voters often experience long lines and crowded parking lots when they go to the polls to cast their ballots. Clearly, the inconveniences of voting can discourage voter turnout. Most people would consider this a small price to pay for democracy. However, Colorado is one of three states that has attempted to remedy this problem by conducting all-mail elections.
In 2013, Colorado started conducting all elections by mail (CRS §1-5-401). In Colorado, every registered voter receives a paper ballot well ahead of Election Day. This means that voters have a period of time where they can mail their ballot back to the county clerk to have their vote counted. The “vote-by-mail” system can be thought of as absentee voting for everyone. If voters choose to mail their completed ballots back to the county clerk’s office, then the ballot must be received no later than 7:00 pm on Election Day. However, voters in Colorado have more than one means to vote. Voters can still choose to cast in-person ballots at vote centers during the early voting period or on Election Day. Coloradans can also leave their ballots in the 24/7 drop-off boxes around Colorado. Voters that choose to mail their ballots back to the county clerk’s office are expected to put a stamp on the envelope. However, the U.S. Postal Service will still deliver ballots to the county clerk’s office without postage and the ballot will still be counted. This fact is rarely advertised since counties have to pick up the tab for ballots that are delivered without a stamp. Although no one knows exactly how much counties lose in unpaid postage for ballots, the Boulder County Clerk’s Office admitted that the amount is insignificant.
Regardless of the insignificant losses due to unpaid postage, one advantage to all-mail elections in Colorado is the decreased cost of administration. After Colorado switched to all-mail voting, the cost per vote went from $15.96 in 2008 to $9.56 in 2014. This is roughly a 40% decrease in the cost of administration per vote. One of the largest cost savers was the drastic decrease in provisional ballots. In 2010, before Colorado implemented all-mail elections, voters cast 39,361 provisional ballots. However, in 2014, Colorado voters only cast 981 provisional ballots. In the 2014 election, only 28 of the 64 counties had a single provisional ballot cast. According to Director of Elections Amber McReynolds, Colorado saved roughly $28,000 as a result of this drastic decrease in provisional ballots. Another large cost saver is the decrease in costs associated with recruiting and training poll workers. The cost of labor per vote cast in 2008 was $4.71. After Colorado switched to all-mail elections, the cost of labor per vote cast dropped to $1.96 in the 2014 election. Based on this research, Colorado’s choice to switch to all-mail voting was a fiscally sound decision.
Although there are obvious benefits to Colorado’s all-mail elections, some argue that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. One of the less tangible disadvantages to all-mail elections is the lack of civic engagement. Some argue that we need citizens to cast votes alongside their neighbors at a place of community involvement. Without this type of civic engagement, voters may lose touch with the connection between changing their community and casting a ballot. Of course, this is not a factor that the state of Colorado can measure in whole numbers.
Colorado took a bold step forward by being one of only three states that conducts all-mail voting. All-mail voting gives Colorado’s voters more opportunities to cast their ballots and decreases the cost of election administration. However, some do worry that citizens will lose their sense of civic engagement. Of course, our understanding of the effects of all-mail elections will grow after each election cycle in Colorado.