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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.


Photo by micala under Creative Commons license.

by inoljt

Examining Turn-Out by Race in California

9:02 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

California constitutes one of the most diverse states in the United States. Here is how the Census estimates its population composition:

California’s Ethnic Composition
Asian 12.7%
Black 6.6%
Hispanic 37.0%
Mixed 2.6%
Native American 1.2%
Pacific Islander 0.4%
White 41.7%

(Note that the numbers do not add up to 100, due to the way the Census tracks ethnicity.)

The people who actually vote in California, however, do not reflect this composition. California’s electorate in the 2008 presidential election is quite different from its actual ethnic composition:

2008 Electorate: Exit Polls
Asian 6%
Black 10%
Hispanic 18%
Other 3%
White 63%

These numbers were taken from exit polls – and one should be warned that exit polls are very, very inaccurate. The numbers above should not be taken for the truth, but rather as a rough approximation of it.

Nevertheless, one can take something out of the exit polls: blacks and whites punched far above their demographic weight, while Asians and Hispanics punched far below theirs. This pattern isn’t so much a racial one as much as an immigrant versus non-immigrant one.

Since blacks and whites are mainly non-immigrant communities, they vote more often than immigrant communities. Blacks and whites thus are overrepresented in the electorate. There was little racial divide between black and white turn-out, which is quite remarkable, given the lower socioeconomic status of blacks. All in all the percentage of California’s 2008 electorate was about 50% more black and white than California’s overall population.

Hispanics are the ones hurt most by this. The difference between the Hispanic portion of the electorate and the Hispanic portion of the overall population is quite striking: the electorate is just half as Hispanic as the population. Most of this is attributable to the legal status of many Hispanic immigrants, the relative youth of the Hispanic population, the lower socioeconomic status of Hispanics, and the immigrant-heavy nature Hispanic community (this is different from the first factor in that immigrants are inherently less likely to vote even if they are citizens).

It is not Hispanics, however, who are least likely to vote: it is Asians. There are several similarities and differences between the two groups. Unlike Hispanics, the Asian population is not skewed downwards, and Asians generally have a high socioeconomic status. On the other hand, Asians are much more of an immigrant community than Hispanics: a remarkable four out of five adult Asians in California constituted immigrants, according to a 2002 study. Only 59% of adult Asians were citizens (who can vote), according to the study.

The low voting rates of Hispanics and Asians naturally reduce their political power. Hispanics, at around one-fifth of the California electorate, are influential – but imagine how much more influential the Hispanic vote would be if they voted their numbers. As for Asians, their low turn-out makes their community almost a non-factor in California politics.

This will probably change, of course. A century ago one could have written the exact same words about another immigrant-heavy group that did not vote: Irish-Americans.


by inoljt

Why College Students Don’t Vote – Some Anecdotes

9:06 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

College students, and young people in general, are famous for their low voting turn-out. In the 2010 midterms, an estimated 20.9% of 18 to 19-year-olds voted – far below the estimated 51% who voted in the 2008 presidential election. 18-to-29-year-olds composed 18% of the electorate in the 2008 presidential election; in the 2010 mid-term elections, they composed a mere 11% of the electorate.

As a college student myself, I’ve had a number of conversations with individuals who did not vote this November.

One person had a mid-term on election day. This individual wasn’t very interested in politics, and so he put his mid-term as more important than his vote. Save for Proposition 19, he did not care very much about anything that was up on the ballot.

Another person forgot to register in time. This individual was also far more interested in baseball than politics, which he knew very little about.

Forgetting to register in time was the reason why another college student didn’t vote. This person was quite politically interested – he believes in the philosophy of communism – and liked to talk about international events. But he didn’t know about the actual routine of registering and applying for an absentee ballot.

This was the same with another college student that I talked with during the summer. I asked him who he was going to vote for, and he responded by saying, “Oh yeah, I forgot that we can actually vote now. How can I vote outside the state?” I then told him how to apply for an absentee ballot.

Finally, there was a college student who didn’t vote due to a mistake in his voter registration form. This mistake apparently caused the state to think he was 10-years-old.  The student attempted to correct the error, but wasn’t able to do so. In talking about this, he called himself “disenfranchised.”

Now, none of these individuals can be accused of being stupid or lazy. They are in fact the opposite – extremely bright, extremely ambitious, and extremely motivated. They constitute the future leaders of the United States.

And they all forgot to vote.

In general, it seems that lack of interest and lack of knowledge were responsible for this. Many young people have never voted before in their lives, and they are unfamiliar with what you actually need to do to vote. Unlike adults, they haven’t been doing the procedure for years. The media always urges people to vote, but it never tells you how to vote: you have to register in your state (here is the form for California), and if you go to college in a different state you need to apply for an absentee ballot for your state (here is the form for California). This is not hard to do; it is just that most young people don’t know that they have to do it or forget to do so in time.

Lack of interest also plays a role. A college student uninterested in politics, who doesn’t know how register to vote or who forgets to register, isn’t going to vote. This is probably quite common.

There are policy changes that can increase turn-out. Election-day voter registration can help young voters who forgot to register in time. Voter turn-out is much higher in states with this. Perhaps states can add a requirement to high school government classes guiding students through the registration and absentee ballot process.

But youth turn-out will probably always lag overall turn-out, as long as young people are more busy than old people.