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by inoljt

The Disadvantages of Absentee Ballots

2:44 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

This is part two of a two-part series evaluating absentee ballots, which are being used more and more often. The first part focused on their advantages. This second part will focus on their disadvantages.

Absentee Ballot

The previous part discussed the two main advantages of absentee ballots: absentee ballots make it easier to vote and enable voters to have more information about obscure ballot measures and races.

Let’s look at the disadvantages. Actually, there’s only one big disadvantage of absentee ballots: the potential for fraud or voter intimidation.

With in-person voting voter intimidation is quite difficult. Nobody can see how a voter fills in the ballot in the voting booth. Somebody who attempted to see how a voter fills his or her ballot would immediately be arrested. So it’s quite difficult to influence voters with in-person voting.

Not so with absentee ballots. With absentee ballots, the burden of keeping the ballot from prying eyes falls on the voter. The voter is supposed to keep the ballot secret and hidden, rather than the government. People are allowed to “guide” voters or “help” them fill out the ballot. Of course, the guide or helper can pressure a voter to fill out the ballot “correctly.” That’s called voter intimidation.

This is not just hypothetical. It’s happened before. One hears stories of how in the 2008 presidential election Obama’s campaign held “voter parties” where supporters would fill out their absentee ballots together. One shudders to think what would have happened to a supporter who decided to vote Republican in a local race.

There’s also a high potential of fraud. In-person voter fraud requires a person to actually walk up to the voting station and impersonate a voter. Absentee ballot fraud just requires good signature-faking skills. It’s quite easy to catch a person impersonating a voter, but practically impossible to catch a person impersonating a voter’s signature.

That is the great disadvantage of absentee ballots: it’s much easier to do unethical things with them.

–inoljt

Photo by micala under Creative Commons license.

by inoljt

The Advantages of Absentee Ballots

4:42 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

This is part of a two-part series evaluating absentee ballots, which are being used more and more often. The first part will focus on their advantages. The second part will focus on their disadvantages.

Absentee Ballot

Absentee ballots are increasingly being used throughout the United States. They are especially popular in the West Coast; elections are entirely absentee-ballot in Oregon and Washington, for instance.

The general reasoning behind absentee ballots are that they increase voter turn-out. The theory goes that voters too busy on election day can vote before the election. Absentee ballots make voting simpler, people say. If it is true that absentee ballots increase voter turn-out, then this would be a substantial advantage. At least one study, on the other hand, casts doubt on whether this is really true.

There is another great advantage to absentee ballots, however.

In the state of California, at least, voter ballots go on for pages and pages. Voters are asked to vote on a huge array of things which they almost certainly haven’t heard of. Everyone has heard of the presidential race. But very few people know about candidates for the local school board or local bond measures. What if one of the candidates is a convicted felon? What if that local ballot proposal is actually the pet project of a big corporation? Often a voter in the booth will only see four names he or she’s never seen before, or a paragraph-long description of a proposed measure. There’s no way for him or her to know how to vote.

Voters who receive absentee ballots don’t face this problem. They can research the candidates or the proposed local measure. They can look online to see whether the candidate for the local school board has an extremely controversial background. They can look at what the newspapers have to say about that local bond measure.

Absentee ballots enable voters to make informed decisions, especially about local elections and measures which nobody has heard of.

They certainly helped me when I voted. I remember voting for the board members on the local fire protection district. Unsurprisingly, I had no idea who any of the candidates were. The voter information pamphlet seemed to be helpful, and I settled on three candidates who seemed to have the best-written candidate statements.

Then I researched who these people actually were. It was fairly simple: I merely typed the candidates’ names and the word “controversy” in Google.

It turned out that all three candidates I’d picked were close relatives of firefighters! Since the fire protection board must bargain with firefighters about their pay, this was obviously a huge conflict of interest. I immediately changed who I was going to vote for. I’d never have known about this if I hadn’t had the time to research the candidates before filling out my absentee ballot.

This is why absentee ballots are great. But they also have some big disadvantages (actually one big disadvantage). That’s the subject of part two.

–inoljt

Photo by micala under Creative Commons license.