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Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Why don't more states vote by mail like Washington?

Long lines at the voting booth. Trouble with voting machines. Too few polling places.

Washington tries to avoid these issues by voting by mail.

Listener Megan Reznicek asked KUOW’s SoundQs team: "Are other states trending toward vote-by-mail systems. Or are we an anomaly?"

The answer:

Currently, 22 states have limited vote-by mail systems. Oregon voters approved the first all vote-by-mail system in 1998, and Washington and Colorado followed in the past decade.

Hawaii and California are now moving toward vote-by-mail,too.

California's Voter Choice Act, for example, went into effect this year. 

Elena Nunez, an advocate for vote-by-mail reforms with Common Cause, said the act “gave counties the option of mailing a ballot to every voter, and then continuing to have in-person vote centers.”

Common Cause advocates for that hybrid approach, in which polling places supplement vote-by-mail. This means you can still have same-day registration and get help voting if you need it. 

And it might help alleviate some of the problems that traditional voting systems have.

“Georgia is the most visible example where there were problems with the lines and people waiting for hours,” Nunez said. “If you're trying to vote on your lunch hour or before you go to work, or after your work with your kids, you may not have several hours to wait in line. So it can really disenfranchise voters when you have long lines.”

Seattleite Gentry Lange shares those concerns. But he said mail-in ballots aren’t the answer.

He's the director of the No Vote By Mail Project. To Lange, a voting booth provides something a mailed ballot just can't: privacy.

“You’re not allowed to go in a voting booth with somebody because we recognize the problems that can be inherent in a system where you allow people to influence the voter,” Lange said.  

That includes family members or bosses forcing people to vote their way. And he said mail-in balloting allows that.

“Nobody would accept banking through the postal system. Nobody,” he said. “But our ballot should be at least as valuable as a $100 bill.”

But Lange is swimming against the tide.

In Washington state, voting by mail is generally seen as convenient. And if you're really feeling nostalgic, you can wait till the last day and hit a drop box.

That’s what Marketa Dolan did in Ballard this year.

“There’s a certain ceremony about doing it on Election Day,” she said Tuesday. “There’s some excitement happening around here. People are running up to the box and putting their ballots in, and we’re part of that.”