A mid-June op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune by perennial conservative mouthpiece Janalee Tobias and a fellow GOP traveler claimed that mail-in voting was essentially a gift to incumbents and a fraud on the voting public. Tobias is correct that the mail ballot systems all but kill off the in-person Election Day. She is also right that allowing voters to mark their ballots early erases the importance of any pre-Election Day information.
“Adios, last minute, highly explosive scandals that can throw the bums out,” Tobias wrote. “Aloha last week/final hours polling fever that can tip a close race … No more embarrassing last-minute revelations about drunk driving records, sweetheart loans, union graft, secret cash gifts, dogs on the station wagon roof, contract kickbacks, pregnant mistresses, or phony war records.”
Okay, Tobias is a little too dramatic, but mail-in ballots do take the luster off any last-week campaigning. It does something else as well: It increases the cost of campaigning; meaning lobbyist money is becoming even more vital in winning elections.
When the mass of voters went to the polls on a given Election Day, candidates generally mailed out materials several weeks prior to voting. However, when voters have ballots sitting on their kitchen counter more than three weeks in advance, candidates are forced to expend money on mailers and door hangers much earlier. In my experience as a vendor and political consultant, the cost of campaigning with vote-by-mail has increased at least 30 percent. That is not a positive if you want to attract “average citizens” to run for public office.
The push for mail-in voting stems from the sensible idea that allowing people to vote whenever they wish, from their kitchen or living room increases the number of people participating in the process. Anything that makes voting easier will naturally pump up the numbers of people voting.
But is that what we really want? Considering how little so many people understand about public policy, I submit that we don’t need more votes, we need more informed voters. Vote-by-mail advocates state that mail-in voters leisurely study the issues on candidate websites before marking the ballot. That is great for candidate marketing, but not actual knowledge of the issues.
Call me “old school”, but what’s wrong with the tradition that men and women concerned about their nation, state, and community would find 30 minutes of time on a given day to mark a ballot at a convenient polling place? Sure, a majority of people don’t vote. That is their choice and maybe they shouldn’t vote if they don’t have a clue as to whom or what they are voting for or against.
Tobias wrote that she feels sorry for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate running in this fall’s general election.
“He may not have a whispered prayer to overtake the deep-pocketed, entrenched opponents like (Gary) Herbert … No matter what Herbert scandal bomb might detonate, critical votes will have already been cast” due to vote-by-mail.
I don’t necessarily share her view that scandals are hiding at every turn. But I sympathize when she sees mail-in voting becoming “as thrilling as paying your cable bill.”
At least, with your cable bill, you understand the benefits for which you are paying.
The opinions stated in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ownership or management of this newspaper.