Saturday, December 5, 2009
Bias Older, Higher Income Voters - It's In the Mail
Vote by Mail is growing. It's convenient for some. It costs less. But is it good for democracy? Or is it newest form voter disenfranchisement plan - overrepresenting the votes of older wealthier voters and underrepresenting younger and lower income voters. The same bias found in registration laws, felon disenfranchisement, vote suppression strategies and the like.
A new survey looks at the demographics of those using making the greatest use of vote by mail in California elections. The Field Poll found those permanently registered to receive mail ballots and most likely to participate in mail elections where much older and whiter vs younger and hispanic. This skew can also be found in states like Oregon with who distribute mail ballots automatically to all registered voters, but more so in a state like California where automatically getting mail ballots is optional.
What if the US Census were only conducted by mail? The population profile would look like it did 20 years ago, perhaps even older and wealthier. Fortunately the Census goes to great lengths to include everyone setting up questionnaire assistance and be counted centers across hard to count areas and conducting an extensive canvass of non-respondents.
Early voting facilitates participation and can save costs. But like the Census, democracy means elections that provide a range of opportunities for people of all backgrounds to vote - by mail, early in person and at a poll location or drop box on Election Day. The trend towards all mail balloting - without options - could set voting rights advances back a few decades or more.