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Could Texas be the next state to conduct elections exclusively by mail?

HOUSTON – As the 2020 election draws closer, more voters are expected to request mail-in ballots this year than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ten states plan to conduct their elections exclusively by mail, while another 22 states are temporarily implementing an all-mail system, though voters can choose to cast ballots in person. In all, 44 states either mail ballots or applications directly to voters or allow voters to request a ballot or application.

Texas is not one of those states.

To see how it works, KPRC 2 went to Oregon, the first state to implement an “all mail” election system.

Oregon’s vote-by-mail system

“Really, everything that we are doing is centered on the voter,” said Steve Trout, Oregon’s Election Director.

The state’s legislature approved a test of vote-by-mail for local elections in 1981. Originally, state Democrats were against it and Republicans were for it. It was put in place statewide in 1998, making Oregon the first state in the country to make the change.

Ballots are sent to every registered voter 20 days before an election. A voter can then research candidates, make selections, sign their ballot and return it to elections officials on their own time. A completed ballot must be submitted by the time polls close on Election Day to be counted. The state includes prepaid postage on every ballot.

“I loved it,” said Beeman Strong, a Texan who now lives in Oregon. “You vote for whoever you want, but it makes everyone more able to vote."

The statistics seem to back that up. Over the past three presidential elections, Texas has averaged 59% voter turnout while Oregon has averaged 83%.

Voter turnout percentages in Texas and Oregon in the last three presidential elections.
Voter turnout percentages in Texas and Oregon in the last three presidential elections. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

How secure is Oregon’s system?

Since its inception, Oregon has sent out more than 20 million ballots, and according to Trout, there have been less than a hundred convictions for voter fraud. That equates to a .0002% rate.

“We’ve got tools, we are going to be able to find you and prosecute you,” Trout said.

Voters in Oregon are required to sign their mail-in ballots, and those signatures are then verified.
Voters in Oregon are required to sign their mail-in ballots, and those signatures are then verified. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

A voter’s signature is an issue as, over time, a signature may change. So forensic handwriting experts are part of the verification process.

Votes can be harvested by third-party groups which adds some vulnerability due to the potential to miss deadlines. But there has been no widespread problems reported as most voters turn in their own ballots.

Is it really ‘all mail' voting?

Voters can return their ballots via mail or by dropping them in an official drop box, like this one outside a McDonald's drive-thru.
Voters can return their ballots via mail or by dropping them in an official drop box, like this one outside a McDonald's drive-thru. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

It could be. All the ballots are mailed to voters. But the state relies on more than 300 drop boxes for ballot collections, many of which are in convenient, drive-thru locations. More than 60% of ballots are collected this way, and a voter can use any box in the state.

“I have more confidence voting in a by-mail election than I do in a polling place election,” Trout said.

Could Texas be next?

Texas still has restrictions on who can request a mail-in ballot. But two Houston-area lawmakers say it’s just a matter of time before a change is made, and that voters will play a key role in some kind of hybrid model.

“That is what I would be voting for and I think that is what the public would vote for,” says State Senator Paul Bettencourt. “Give them the option."

“If the public demands it,” says State Representative Gene Wu, “I guarantee you we will do it the very next election cycle.”


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