On nonpartisan politics:
I've always been kind of bummed at the general low rate of participation in American democracy. During my lifetime, the voter turnout rate has been something along the lines of 50%-ish in presidential years and 35% in midterm years. What does that say about the American electorate? That they are to passive/uninformed/disinterested to bother exercising a fundamental right that people in other places and times have fought and died for? Or is an indictment of our system -- that the government is so dysfunctional that people have written it off and given up?
However, here in my home state in the upper-left corner of the US, we have recently gone to an all-mail-in vote. (I think there's one county that still has traditional voting.) I was listening to the news yesterday and heard that the Secretary of State announced that, this year, 71% of all voters cast their ballots! 71%! That's just stunning. Oregon, also vote by mail, is about the same, and pushes the 90% threshold in Presidential years.
Why doesn't every state do this?
It's so convenient: you fill out the ballot and send it in whenever you like. You can take the time to research the gajillion voter initiatives (when in doubt, vote no), carefully consider the down-ballot and judicial races, and talk it over with your family as you fill out your ballot. You don't need to stand in line, it doesn't matter if the weather sucks. There are no worries about voter intimidation or minority neighborhoods with inadequate numbers of voting machines/ballots. You don't need to worry about electronic voting machines miscounting your vote. You don't need to juggle work and/or childcare to make it to the polls during the specified hours.
I admit that I kind of miss the civic ritual of going to the poll, but we've invented a new ritual in our family: I involve my kids and have them help me fill out my ballot, and talk about what we are voting for and why. I'm not sure they really understand it yet, but they will in time.
I suppose there are hypothetical concerns about fraud with mail-in ballots, but those have never really been substantiated as actually happening, and quite honestly even if they did occur, would be marginal in their effects compared to the fact that DOUBLE the number of voters actually cast their ballots in such systems. How can such increased participation NOT strengthen our democracy?
I've noticed that republicans generally oppose measures that would tend to increase access to the ballot and favor those that would restrict it (voter ID laws, motor voter, etc). The thinking is that making it easier for poor/elderly/minority voters to vote will disproportionately help democrats. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. Despite being a "deep blue" state, we have had the last three major statewide elections (Gov x2, senate) be decided by a few thousand votes. There's real parity here, and while it's impossible to know what the state would look like under traditional voting, it certainly doesn't seem to have disadvantaged republicans too much.
Things change slowly, but more and more states are adding "early voting" and I wonder if ultimately most states will go towards voting by mail. I really hope they do.