MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The state of Oregon has used a vote-by-mail system since 1998.
And to find out a little bit more about how it works, we're joined now by Rob Richie. He's with an organization called FairVote.org.
Hello, Mr. Richie.
Mr. ROB RICHIE (FairVote.com): Hello.
NORRIS: Could you give us a brief explanation of how voters in Oregon cast their votes? For instance, when are those ballots mailed out prior to the election?
Mr. RICHIE: Well, they're mailed out several weeks before the election, typically three weeks. You get your ballot in the mail and you - and in the state of Oregon also get a voter guide, in which we think is a good idea, and you have several weeks to fill out your ballot. You can drop it off, but you obviously can also put it in the mail.
NORRIS: Return it in what kind of envelope? How do they make sure it's secure?
Mr. RICHIE: There's an envelope that goes out with the ballot, and you need to sign the outside of that ballot, and that signature is checked against the signature that you provided when your registered to vote to make sure that the proper person is casting them.
NORRIS: Now, the arguments in favor of this vote-by-mail system is that it's less expensive, it's less cumbersome, it's more convenient. But there are critics of the system, and one of the things that they say is that that the system is vulnerable to fraud. What do you say to that?
Mr. RICHIE: Well, it definitely is vulnerable to fraud. I think we haven't come up with, you know, an absolute fraud-free way of voting. But it is true that when a ballot is mailed to someone's house, it has left the hands of the government, it has left the hands of certainly a secure polling place, and then it's put into mailboxes - sometimes that's a little box outside their house that someone can maybe try to get their ballot. They - people can live in apartments and it's not necessarily a secret delivery. Everyone knows that they have the ballot if they're a registered voter, so their employer or their - the landlord or whomever. So that there's these opportunities that one could say, well, maybe someone could sell their ballot, fill it out under someone's direction and give them $100.
And it isn't a secret ballot, but we are seeing lots and lots of places using absentee ballots around the country. And there haven't been extremely major kinds of corruption exposed, but we certainly have seen some troubling ones here and there.
NORRIS: And this evidence a fraud?
Mr. RICHIE: Well, there's been actual cases of fraud. There was a vote for a mayor of Miami in the 1990s where they actually had to a revote after exposure of some corruption in absentee voting. There have been other specific efforts to try to cheat using vote-by-mail. In Oregon, there is no known case of, you know, fraud that has certainly overturned an election in a way that's - is interesting to at least note given that they have now voted for about decade using all vote-by-mail.
I think the biggest concern that those advocating vote-by-mail have to address is what might happen if there is a major incident. If we've gone down the road of sort of eliminating polling places and not even really knowing how to do polling place elections very well anymore, whether we can change if we need to. Until we're really satisfied that it's the way to go, I think that going to all vote-by-mail raises some serious questions.
NORRIS: Now, we don't know this for sure, of course, because we weren't there. But do you think this is what the framers of the Constitution had in mind?
Mr. RICHIE: Well, the framers of the Constitution had a range of views on suffrage. Of course, some of them didn't really think too many people should be voting at all. But the idea of a secret ballot was not part of our traditions for generations. So the government didn't print a ballot and have a ballot that people cast secretly until the late 1800s. So that during the lifetime of the framers, there was a lot of in-person voting, meaning you would stand there and you would sort of vote publicly, almost like the Iowa caucuses. And when you voted on paper, it was on a ballot that was typically made up by candidates or parties.
So it was a very kind of different voting reality at that time.
NORRIS: Mr. Richie, thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. RICHIE: Thank you.
NORRIS: Rob Richie is the executive director of FairVote.org. It's also known as the Center for Voting and Democracy.
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