All-Mail Elections are Always a Bad Idea – Even for Hawaii

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An examination of voter fraud cases over the past two decades reveals that absentee ballots, i.e., ballots requested and sent through the mail, are the tool of choice of vote thieves.

That is why the suggestion by Richard Borreca of the ‘Honolulu Star Bulletin’ that Hawaii use a vote-by-mail system for the 1st Congressional district race is a very bad idea. His suggestion that voting-by-mail will increase voter turnout is also not supported by data from other elections. In fact, the evidence on turnout and mail elections leads to the exact opposite conclusion.


There are numerous examples of voter fraud involving absentee ballots. There is an ongoing investigation in Essex County, New Jersey over fraudulent absentee ballots in a 2007 state senate race in which five people have already been charged, including campaign workers who were submitting absentee ballots on behalf of voters who never received or voted the ballots.

A 2003 mayor’s race in East Chicago, Indiana, was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court because of absentee ballot fraud, as well as other problems such as individuals voting whose registered residences were vacant lots. The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation of a 1997 mayor’s race in Miami that was thrown out by the courts because of an estimated 5,000 fraudulent absentee ballots.

I wrote a case study for the Heritage Foundation on a stolen election in Greene County, Alabama in which 11 people were convicted of voter fraud involving hundreds of fraudulent absentee ballots [].

The problem with mail-in balloting is that such ballots are voted in unmonitored settings where no election officials or independent observers are present to ensure that the registered voter is actually the person voting and that there is no illegal coercion or payment for a vote. It is unfortunately too easy for wrongdoers to request absentee ballots in the names of registered voters, particularly poor residents and senior citizens, and either intimidate them into casting votes or fraudulently completing their ballots for them. That is much more difficult to do when individuals vote in a polling place under the supervision and observation of election officials and poll watchers.

Similarly, the idea that turnout will increase if voting is switched to mail elections is a fallacy. The nonpartisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate has conducted a number of studies on “convenience” voting methods such as mail voting and “no excuse” absentee voting. Their studies, including a review of the November 2008 election, show that such convenience voting “does not help turnout and may hurt.” Of the 12 states that had turnout declines in the 2008 election, a presidential election year that saw the highest overall general election turnout since 1960, ten had some form of convenience voting such as mail elections. In fact, Oregon, which has all-mail voting, had the third largest decrease in turnout of any state. South Dakota, which has “no excuse” absentee balloting, had the fifth largest decrease in turnout.

This phenomenon was not limited to the 2008 election. Studies of prior elections show that states that have adopted such forms of convenience voting like mail elections generally perform worse in terms of aggregate voter turnout than states that do not have such forms of voting. In election years where turnout goes up, turnout does not go up as much in states with convenience voting. In election years where turnout goes down, it decreases even more in states with convenience voting.

There seem to be multiple reasons for this correlation between turnout and “convenience.” The first is that the get-out-the-vote efforts that campaigns engage in during the last few days before an election tend to get diffused over a much longer period of time when all or most of the voting is done by mail over several weeks. So the GOTV efforts are not as effective

There are several other reasons why all-mail elections are not a good idea. First, they make campaigns even more expensive. Most campaigns and candidates spend the bulk of their funds in the last few days before election day on direct mail, advertising, phone banking and get-out-the-vote efforts when voters are paying attention. With all-mail elections, such efforts have to be stretched out over a much longer period of time. This can make it much more expensive for challengers to mount successful campaigns against incumbents or against other candidates who are wealthy enough to finance their own campaigns. This increased cost barrier makes it even more difficult for average citizens to participate in the political process as candidates.

Second, voters who cast their ballots over several weeks are not voting with the same information base. If there are important events just prior to election day such as previously unknown information being revealed about a candidate or a news event that is important to a voter’s choice, those voters who cast their ballots weeks previously by mail cannot change their vote