Vote-by-mail program delivers satisfaction to many

ST. PAUL (AP) — Voting by mail has been popular in Ramsey County, with more than 20,000 people asking for vote-by-mail ballots for the upcoming elections. The county’s success might help efforts to expand the system.
“Is it a bad thing to make voting more convenient? Certainly, we don’t think so,” said Joe Mansky, Minnesota’s election director.
Mansky said it’s hard to argue with the fact that people seem to be voting more in the areas where ballots are mailed to them.
Customer satisfaction has been high. In a survey of those using the service, responses varied. “My husband died,” wrote one woman. “I was afraid to go myself.” Another voter said, “I don’t drive. Hard to get to polls.” Several appreciated the convenience. “No waiting in lines,” one wrote.
Despite the appeal, the Minnesota Legislature has not acted on Secretary of State Joan Growe’s repeated efforts to expand the system across the state. Most voters still go to traditional polling places to cast their ballots.
While opponents cite the possibility of fraud, some supporters say the roadblocks are political. More Republicans than DFLers tend to oppose efforts to increase mail balloting.
Since 1992, Ramsey County voters have been able to vote by mail even if they do not meet the usual requirements for absentee balloting. In most other areas of the state, absentee ballots are permitted only in cases of illness or other unusual circumstances.
For nine years, voting has been solely by mail in 161 small, mostly rural Minnesota precincts with 400 or fewer registered voters. The 1996 Legislature, while rejecting a statewide program modeled on Ramsey County’s, agreed to raise the threshold for the largely rural program so precincts with 1,000 or fewer voters would have mail-only balloting. Gov. Arne Carlson vetoed the measure.
Chris Samuel, a Ramsey County supervisor who oversees the election office, said more study is needed to determine whether unrestricted absentee balloting increases overall turnout.
After the Nov. 5 election, Ramsey County officials plan to compare voter turnout in the county’s communities to that of similar Hennepin County cities. Samuel said that’s a better barometer than comparing one presidential or gubernatorial election to the next because factors ranging from weather to special ballot questions can affect turnout. The study also will look at whether absentee ballots tend to favor one party.