ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Voting has already begun in this fall's election. Yes, in most of the country you can now fill out your absentee ballot and mail it in. About half the states are making it easier for people to vote this way. Joining us now is Michael Traugott. He's professor of political science at the University of Michigan. Welcome, professor.
Professor MICHAEL TRAUGOTT (University of Michigan): Nice to be with you, Andrea.
SEABROOK: Thank you. Why have states made it easier to vote absentee?
Prof. TRAUGOTT: It's concerns about low levels of turnout and making the ballot generally more accessible that's prompted this movement. The main reasons that people don't get to the polls if they're registered is because they have conflicts in their schedule or unexpected illness. Getting an absentee ballot gives them more time to vote.
SEABROOK: Currently Oregon is the only state that has completely eliminated polling stations altogether and does it's voting entirely by mail. How has that gone?
Prof. TRAUGOTT: Generally it's gone pretty well. When they went to voting by mail they increased their turnout by about eight percentage points. It's ticked down a little bit since then, but the people in Oregon are very satisfied with voting by mail and they also believe that it saves the election administrators a lot of money, because they don't have to move the machines out of a warehouse, hire a temporary staff.
SEABROOK: Any reports of fraud?
Prof. TRAUGOTT: No. The secretary of state maintains an 800 number, and of course the parties are keeping track of each other and they have a generally kind of a suspicious nature of what the other one is doing. And they receive very rare phone calls, typically a husband trying to influence a wife or vice versa, but no wholesale efforts to impact large numbers of voters.
SEABROOK: Is this the best way to maximize voter turnout?
Prof. TRAUGOTT: The very best way to maximize voter turnout is what political scientists call anytime/anywhere voting; that is, where you could get onto a computer during some specified period and be able to securely cast a vote. But for a variety of reasons, we're not anywhere close to that yet because of security concerns.
SEABROOK: Well, sir, I move money around in my bank accounts all the time, pay my bills online. Why are we so far from doing this?
Prof. TRAUGOTT: You have to check the connection for the authenticity of the person on the other end, but just at the point at which the vote is cast you need to disassociate that, so that they would know who you are but also they could keep it anonymous. Election administration procedures will catch up in security terms with financial transactions, but they're not there yet.
SEABROOK: So you think that in the future, Election Day could become more like election few weeks?
Prof. TRAUGOTT: Yes. The proportion of voters voting not at the polling place has been growing slowly over time, and we expect that this will increase into the future.
SEABROOK: Do you think that's the right direction?
Prof. TRAUGOTT: Well, I think that elections are the most important thing we do in a democracy, so anything that we can do that will increase participation, trying to ensure that only, you know, qualified or legally eligible people are casting ballots, is very important to maintain the confidence of citizens in their democracy.
SEABROOK: Michael Traugott is professor of political studies at the University of Michigan. Thank you, Professor.
Prof. TRAUGOTT: Thank you, Andrea.