Vote-By-Mail Systems: the Clear Front Runner
While U.S. voter turnout increased substantially in 2018 compared to the 2014 mid-term election, the U.S. still trails many other countries in voter turnout. And all of the political parties are working hard to increase the number of voters participating in the election process in advance of the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
One of the most obvious ways to increase voter turn out is to reduce or remove the obstacles (or excuses) voters face. Mail-in balloting is growing in popularity amongst many states.
As a matter of fact, four states: Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Hawaii conduct all voting by mail. Next year, California will expand vote-by-mail to include all of its counties. Nearly two-dozen states currently allow some version of mail-in voting.
Based on the long-accepted absentee balloting, which permitted voters to mail in their vote when they were physically inhibited from getting to the voting booth, vote-by-mail provides a more convenient way for citizens to vote.
Vote remote, as it is sometimes called, can also reduce election costs associated with in-person voting systems (such as recruiting staff for polling locations or installing voting machines). So far, the results indicate a significant uptick in voter participation.
Processing those physical ballots can still present some costly logistical challenges. However, this isn’t a new challenge, and there’s already a proven solution – automated mail extraction and processing equipment, which can save election staff valuable time.
Secure, Reliable Ballot Extraction
While some districts have switched to electronic voting, there is still a substantial amount of paper that must be processed each election cycle. Those include absentee ballots, ballots from military personnel stationed overseas, and the traditional paper-based voting systems found at many polling locations.
Tabulating paper ballots is a time-consuming and arduous process, but essential. Many close elections have been decided based on the results of vote-by-mail, absentee or provisional ballots, which are often counted last.
Inbound mail ballot processing can be complex and time-consuming. Staff has to open the returned mail ballot envelopes, extract the ballots, sort them, and then pass those ballots on to vote tabulators.
In cases where such manual and time-consuming processes abound, automation becomes critical.
In Colorado, election officials deployed the OPEX Model 72™ Rapid Extraction Desk® to help process ballots more quickly. At a rate of more than 2,000 pieces per hour, Colorado was able to process the entire state’s ballots efficiently and without damage to the ballots (which can lead to expensive recounts and delays).
The Model 72 provides a smaller cut depth (which reduces the likelihood of damage), and each envelope is jogged to shift contents away from the cut edges. This extraction desk can also process envelopes of mixed sizes and thicknesses thanks to its advanced friction feeder. These features help increase throughput and reduce downtime – and in time-sensitive voting applications, that is an important consideration.
For counties that process a small number of mail-in ballots, the Model 72 RED may not fit their needs. So, OPEX offers lower volume mail automation solutions, designed for operations that process between 200 and 2,000 pieces per day, such as the OMATION® Series 210 and 410 Envelopeners®). These units use the same milling cutter technology found in the higher volume OMATION Model 306®.
Vote-by-mail systems solve a number of problems that plague polling locations – long lines, confusing voter ID requirements, and understaffing. These systems also make it easier for people to vote regardless of their job schedules, their transportation needs, their health, or inclement weather on election day.
In addition to convenience, there are also substantial cost savings. Colorado reported a 40% reduction in costs. When Garden County in Nebraska experimented with a mail-in system in 2018, turnout surged to 58.7 percent, roughly double the average of every other county in the state.
However, vote-by-mail can’t succeed if election officials have to trade one set of inefficiencies for another. Automated mail extraction and processing will be a key part of a successful transition. So this election season, stay a vote above the rest by automating your vote by mail processing system.