Why is it so hard to vote in so many places? And what are states doing to make it easy? A new study by Northern Illinois University analyzed the time and effort it took to vote in each presidential election year from 1996 through 2016. Researchers factored in registration deadlines, voter-registration restrictions, voter ID laws and – in states where they were offered – automatic voter registration, early voting and mailed-ballot voting.

We already knew that ease-of-voting differs by state. What is shocking is the amount of variation, even before accounting for voter restrictions imposed after 2016.

  • Oregon took the top honors for making it easy on voters in 2016, followed by Colorado, California, North Dakota and Iowa. Washington state moved from 46th place in 1996 to 11th because of its move to 100 percent mailed-out ballots.
  • Voters faced the most restrictions and inconveniences in Mississippi, followed by Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Texas.  

Where Did Your State Rank?

State Voting Rank


Is Mailed-Out Ballot Voting the Silver Bullet of Voter Participation?

Among all of the factors to be considered in the voting process, recent studies have shown that mailed-out voting has a substantial impact, more than has previously been documented.

Mail-In Creates a Huge Increase in Turnout

  • Data from the 2018 primaries confirmed that mailed-out ballot jurisdictions had a 15-percentage point increase in turnout among registered voters (37 percent versus 22 percent for non-mailed jurisdictions).   
  • Analysis of data from the 2018 general election, as compiled by the University of Florida’s U.S. Elections Project, showed a similar trend: a 10+ percentage point gain in turnout for the mailed-out ballot states (more than 60 percent) versus the balance of the U.S. (under 50 percent). This difference would have resulted in 25 million more people voting.

A note on terminology: For consistency, we are using the common industry term of “mailed-out voting.” Some reformers refer to this as “Vote by Mail” or “Vote at Home.” Well more than half of the mailed-out ballots are hand-delivered to secure drop boxes or staffed vote centers (but tend to be returned by mail in more rural areas.)

2018 Voter Turnout

Mailed-Out Ballots Address Most Problems Experienced at the Polls

What can we discover about why mailed-ballot voting is so effective in increasing voter turnout? There are several reasons; in fact, five out of the six hindrances to voting are eliminated by mailed-ballot voting, according to 2018 research by PRRI/The Atlantic.

As an important aside, it’s significant that each of these factors have a 200-300 percent larger impact on Black or Hispanic voters than white voters.

Mailed-Out Ballots

You Can’t Hack Paper

After the electronic hacking attempts of 2016, there was a call for paper ballots to restore election security. The Washington Post’s ranking of Colorado as the safest state to cast a ballot served to further promote the security benefits of the a Vote At Home process.

It’s Cheaper Too!

PEW Trust research shows that mailed-ballot voting cost Colorado approximately $10 per vote in 2014, down from $16 per vote in previous elections. With additional maturation of the system, former Denver Director of Elections Amber McReynolds recently told The Parallax that it now costs just $4.20 per election. A separate PEW study also notes that mail-in voting helps alleviate problems attracting poll workers.

Implementing Mail-In Voting Across the Country

Survey responses reveal that Republicans and Democrats hold mostly different world views regarding the perceived problems with our current political system. See table below.

Perceptions of Problems in U.S. Election Systems

The one area where there is some overlap is perceptions around the low voter turnout in U.S. elections.

  • Democrats rank “Too few people voting” as a top problem (78 percent agree)
  • Republicans rank “Too few people voting” as a mid-level problem (57 percent agree)

Each state has a unique mailed-ballot voting process. While there is no cookie-cutter approach to implementing full mailed-ballot voting (such as used in Colorado, Oregon and Washington), there are stages of accessibility to achieve the full benefits from this process. Currently, there are more than 20 states that are or will consider better mailed-out ballot policies in 2019.

To determine what you can do specifically to promote election reform in your area, please email info@voteathome.org. Be sure to provide your name, state and zip code. Based on the up-to-date legislative status in your state, Vote at Home will provide you with actions you can take to best impact these reforms.


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