Vote by Mail Act

Summary: The Vote by Mail Act requires that all registered voters be mailed a ballot and that they can vote by returning that ballot by mail, by voting at an early voting center, or by voting at a polling place on Election Day.

Based on Hawaii HB 1248 (2019)

BACKGROUND:

Holding a high-turnout election in the usual manner this November will be like a death march. There will be no coronavirus vaccine by then, so people will be risking their lives. The great majority of Americans will understand that by the fall, so election officials will be inundated with applications for absentee ballots. While absentee voters will be safe, it will become a wildly cumbersome system because absentee applications require election officials to check off and send out ballots one-by-one. There may be so many millions of applications that officials just can’t handle it – a total breakdown.

In comparison, it would be so much easier to mail a ballot to each registered voter. As a result, citizens would overwhelmingly vote by mail. The percentage who vote on Election Day would be much smaller than in a system that requires applications to vote absentee. This is important both because it will be much easier to maintain social distancing at polling places with a far smaller crowd, and because the virus will substantially diminish the number of people who will be willing to work the polls – but only a small number of workers can handle a small crowd.

DRAFTING CONSIDERATIONS:

Election Day voting – Many advocates are rightly concerned that we must ensure voters can easily and conveniently vote on Election Day if they want to. Vote by mail laws that include Election Day voting generally set up fewer Election Day polling places than normal. But this is not essential and, in November 2020, it is not very desirable. Therefore, this model retains existing Election Day polling places and instructs officials to study polling place locations for future elections. We can maintain existing polling places this year because each would require far fewer workers than in prior elections.

Anti “fraud” systems – Advocates are concerned that some election officials may unfairly disqualify mailed-in ballots because they claim signatures don’t match, and the like. Therefore, this model makes it easy for voters to cure a real deficiency after ballots are held aside for investigation. Significantly, for signatures on return envelopes that do not appear to match a signature on file, this model places the burden of proof not on the voter but the election officials. The fact is, there is virtually no “fraud” where people who are unqualified to vote attempt to impersonate a citizen who is qualified – and that is the only thing such anti “fraud” systems address. Instead, this model emphasizes public awareness that attempting an unqualified vote is a serious crime – which is how we enforce 99 percent of all criminal laws.

Existing election laws – Obviously, this legislation will require adaptation to work within any existing state election statute; every state will be different. Therefore, this model contains only the essential new sections. Legislative Counsel will have to make numerous technical changes in existing law to fit the vote by mail policy.

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE

This Act shall be called the “Vote by Mail Act.”

SECTION 2. PURPOSE

This law is enacted to protect the lives and health of voters while upholding the fundamental freedom to vote.

SECTION 3. VOTE BY MAIL

After section XXX, the following new section XXX shall be inserted:

(A) VOTING BY MAIL, BY EARLY VOTING, OR ON ELECTION DAY

In every election, all registered voters will be mailed a ballot that they can return by mail or by delivering it to an early voting center or a polling place on Election Day. Further, any voter can obtain a replacement ballot and vote with the replacement by mail, at an early voting center or at a polling place on Election Day. It is the voter’s choice when and how his or her ballot is cast.

(B) MAILING BALLOT PACKAGES TO VOTERS

1)  Ballot packages for each registered voter shall include an official ballot, a return identification envelope with postage prepaid, a secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve, and instructions.

2) The instructions shall include directions for:

a) marking the ballot;

b) inserting the marked ballot in the secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve;

c) inserting the secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve with the marked ballot in the return identification envelope; and

d) signing the return identification envelope before mailing or delivering the return identification envelope containing the secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve with the marked ballot.

3) The instructions shall describe what constitutes illegal election fraud, as provided in [cite sections], and state that violations may upon conviction result in imprisonment, a fine, or both.

4) The [county clerk] shall mail a ballot package by non-forwardable mail to each registered voter in the county so that they are received approximately fourteen days before the election.

5) The [county clerk] shall publicly announce the date or dates when ballot packages are mailed to voters.

6) Nothing in this section shall change the responsibilities of election officials with respect to military and overseas voters.

(C) CASTING BALLOTS

To cast a valid ballot, the voter shall return the return identification envelope containing the secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve with the marked ballot:

1) By mail at any time before or on the Saturday before Election Day, as shown by the postmark;

2) By delivery to any early voting center; or

3) By delivery to any Election Day polling place, provided that any voter who is standing in line at a polling place at closing time shall be allowed to vote.

(D) REPLACEMENT BALLOTS

1)  A voter may obtain a replacement ballot for mailing, voting at an early voting center, or voting at an Election Day polling place by swearing or affirming under penalties of perjury that the voter has not cast another ballot.

2) Voters requesting a replacement ballot shall be notified that, because each voter has a unique voter identification number, election officials can easily detect any attempt to vote more than one ballot.

3) Upon receipt of a request for a replacement ballot, election officials shall verify the registration of the voter and ensure that, according to existing records, another ballot has not already been returned by the voter.

(E) DEFICIENT RETURN IDENTIFICATION ENVELOPES

1) If a return identification envelope is received by the [county clerk] with an authentic voter identification number but an unsigned affirmation, or it contains another condition that would not allow the automatic counting of the ballot, the [county clerk] shall hold the envelope unopened with other such envelopes that may be deficient.

2) For each envelope that may be deficient, the [county clerk] shall notify the voter by first class mail, and also by telephone and electronic mail if such are available, to inform the voter of the procedure to correct the deficiency, which is to swear or affirm under penalties of perjury that the voter intends to cast that ballot and has not cast another ballot.

3) The voter shall have seven days after Election Day to cure any such deficiency. The counting of ballots and disclosure of election results may continue during the time period for curing a deficiency.

4) If there is a claim that the voter’s signature on the return identification envelope does not sufficiently match a signature on file, that shall be treated separately from unsigned envelopes or other conditions that may cause a deficiency. The [county clerk] shall hold these in a separate place and these ballots shall be counted seven days after Election Day unless it is proven that the voter did not intend to cast that ballot.

(F) EARLY VOTING CENTERS

1) Early voting centers shall be established at the office of the [county clerk] and such other additional locations within a county as may be designated by the [clerk], but there shall be at least one early voting center for every 100,000 county residents.

2) Early voting centers shall be open from the fifteenth day preceding Election Day through the day before Election Day. The [state board of elections] shall set the hours of operation for early voting centers, but there shall be at least two days per week when early voting centers are open until at least 8 p.m.

3) Each voter service center shall accept return identification envelopes containing the secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve with the marked ballot, the same as if the ballot was mailed. Each voter service center shall also provide replacement ballots, which can be cast without the use of any return identification envelope or secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve, and shall allow voters to vote on an electronic voting machine as if it were a replacement ballot, if the voter so chooses.

(G) ELECTION DAY POLLING PLACES

1) In the November 2020 General Election, Election Day polling places and precinct boundaries shall be the same as existed before enactment of this law, except where changes must be made because of the unavailability of a former polling place. After November 2020, the [state board of elections] shall study how many Election Day polling places are needed for future elections, based on 2020 Election Day turnout. Based on recommendations from the [state board of elections], the [county clerks] shall designate Election Day polling places for future elections, but there shall be at least one Election Day polling place for every 10,000 county residents.

2) Each Election Day polling place shall accept return identification envelopes containing the secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve with the marked ballot, the same as if the ballot was mailed. Each Election Day polling place shall also provide replacement ballots, which can be cast without the use of any return identification envelope or secrecy envelope or secrecy sleeve, and shall allow voters to vote on an electronic voting machine as if it were a replacement ballot, if the voter so chooses.

(H) REPEAL

Sections [cite statute], providing for absentee voting, are repealed.

SECTION 4. EFFECTIVE DATE

This law shall become effective on the date it is enacted [or write out the date].

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