The trend to absentee ballots--good or bad? : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

I have voted absentee for 10 years because of disability. I really appreciate it. But if I weren't disabled or traveling or whatever, I would still prefer it due to convenience. But is it good if voting is too easy? Do absentee votes promote fraud? Does counting of absentee ballots take too long? Absentee voting is a rapidly growing trend. Good or bad?


-- Lars (, November 26, 2000


I'd like to see national elections extended for a day or two.... waiting for 3 hours to cast a ballot is rather excessive (sp?). This would also encourage more people to get out and vote, hopefully. Out of a nation of 250 million people, only 100 million voted?? We get what we deserve, I guess. Make absentee ballots due a few days before the general election and have these counted and done before results start coming in from individual polling stations, no need to wait one or two weeks AFTER to get results. Shorten, or limit, the "ad season" to 30 days before the election and dedicate a certain amount of radio and TV time during this month to each candidate running (or issue). Okay, off on a tangent now..... I like the idea of absentee ballots, I don't think it *promotes* fraud. In the words of Martha Stewart... "Absentee ballots, it is a good thing!"

-- Rob (, November 26, 2000.

Mr. Ornstein (the author of the linked article) is really going to freak out if Internet security is tightened up enough in the next few years so that people can vote online.

From his article:

This trend, usually applauded as a means to increase voter participation, is corroding the secret ballot, which is the cornerstone of an honest and lawful vote.

In what way? Things are no different with absentee voting than they are with voting in a polling place. If I choose to let people know how I voted, I tell them. If I don't, I don't. If I require privacy, there's a small room in my apartment (with a built-in chair, even) which works just fine for such things.

The secret ballot, cast behind a curtain or partition in a public polling place on Election Day, is the single most important element in the electoral system that most Americans trust. Voting by secret ballot prevents spouses from looking over their partners' shoulders while they cast ballots at home;...

So what?

... pastors from calling for all parishioners to vote together in church or temple;...

Maybe I've been sheltered, but I've never heard of this happening. Would it be like Bingo Night?

...labor leaders from asking workers to vote together in the union hall;...

They could ask all they want. Should they demand, I think there are laws that would cover it.

...bosses from suggesting employees do the same in the office.

...and they can suggest all they want, too. If someone values their vote that lightly, they could just as easily sell it to the highest bidder. Mr. Ornstein has a very low opinion of the electorate, apparently.

It prevents party workers from handing out absentee ballots already filled in with straight tickets, and cajoling their neighbors to sign them and send them in....

You don't "hand out" absentee ballots on a street corner, nimrod.

It makes counting the votes relatively timely and relatively verifiable.

Just like this time, right?

In contrast, elections conducted primarily by absentee or mail-in ballot leave voters vulnerable to all those pressures.

More so than they already are? Many churches are already easing into political opinions from the pulpit. Many companies (and unions) make it known in no uncertain terms that they support so-and-so because of their strong stand on __________ (fill in the blank).

A variety of local and state laws prevent blatant electioneering at the polling place, but a move toward widespread absentee voting wipes away such protections and greatly enhances the possibility of outright fraud...

Bullshit. The one year I voted absentee, I don't recall anyone from either party knocking down the door of my apartment to "electioneer" anything. Fraud admittedly is another matter, and that needs to be tightened up considerably.

...Moreover, allowing increasingly large numbers of voters to cast their ballots before Election Day ensures that some of them will miss the information-packed final stretch of the campaign....

Now, we're starting to get down to it. Norman's afraid he'll miss his exit polls. What information is there to be gleaned from the final days? By then, the candidates and their positions are well-known -- they were well-known by the time the nominating conventions were over. So far as any late-breaking news, I see no indication that the announcement of Dubya's DWI had much effect on his True Believers.

...And a flood of absentee ballots make for an excruciatingly slow tabulation, leaving races unresolved weeks after most of us think we know, or should know, what happened.

So what's the hurry? Do you want it done fast, or do you want it done right? Most Americans have already said that they're willing to trade time for accuracy.

Democratic and Republican party officials have supported this trend, but for less disinterested reasons. The use of absentee ballots allows party workers to identify certain voters who might need "assistance" (in some states this year, the parties applied for the ballots on the behalf of some voters and then helped them complete the form, sign it and mail it) and it simplifies their get-out-the-vote efforts.

You think the parties don't already know who might need "assistance?" (Well, maybe not, since there were apparently 19,000 or so people in Palm Beach County who surely could have USED it.) You think the True Believers (on both sides) weren't burning up the phone lines election eve?

The parties' enthusiasm, however, points toward a darker prospect: a return to the corruption that permeated 19th-century American politics. In those days, ballots were not standardized locally. Voters could--and usually did--use color-keyed or specially shaped straight tickets printed up by party bosses. Huge numbers of votes were cast fraudulently, with people voting two or three times, and otherwise padding the rolls and counts....

That was then. This is now. Procedures have tightened up considerably. So far as multiple-voting goes, it was the election offices who managed to send those multiple ballots to some military voters. That could change, of course, if absentee ballots start being handed out on the street, as Ornstein apparently thinks will happen.

A confession is in order here: I vote absentee.

Confessions are good for the soul, Norman. Please continue...

That's because I live in Maryland but have spent every Election Day since 1982 in New York City working for a television network. I appreciate the convenience of the absentee vote. But I don't use it for primaries and local elections, I don't let anyone obtain a ballot for me, and I would never use it if I were not actually away from home on Election Day. I believe in the process of standing with my neighbors at my polling place--shielded by a zone of protection against electioneering--and then exercising in private my precious individual right to vote.

Well, Norm (may I call you Norm?), if the PROCESS of standing with your neighbors at your polling place is so damned IMPORTANT to you, why don't you get off your lazy ass and fly back to Maryland to vote in General Elections? It sure doesn't seem to hinder you in voting in primaries and local elections, does it? I don't buy for a minute that the only time you can't be around Maryland is during all the OTHER elections. Hell, YOU beg the time off work, drive to the precinct, try to find a place to park within ten blocks, put on a powdered wig, stand in line, in the rain, with mothers and their bored kids, and think of how you'll explain to your boss why your lunch hour took THREE hours, if "the experience" of "standing with your neighbors" is so PRECIOUS to you that you need it to feel PATRIOTIC.

I don't think there's anything that requires that voting be made difficult. The act of voting is the important part. Everything else is just a matter of procedure. If we can't use modern means to produce the same result, why not mandate that all marks be made with a quill pen just like it was in The Good Old Days?

For those of us who must vote absentee,...

...which I still think doesn't include you, Norm (may I call you Norm?)...

...I think the process should entail enough difficulty that only those intent on voting will pursue it. For most of this century, that's how it went: Citizens seeking an absentee ballot had to affirm, often by signed affidavit, that they could not be physically present at their polling place.

That changed in the 1960s. As mobility became a fact of contemporary society, high standards for absentee ballots began to relax in many states. Most still required a statement that the voter would be away on Election Day, but in the '80s even that standard began to fray. Today, many states, including California, North Carolina, Washington and Florida, proudly advertise how easy it is to obtain and cast a quick ballot. The Web site of Henderson County, N.C., refers to its process as "no-excuse one-stop absentee voting."

The vote is the important part. Not the process by which it is obtained.

This method creates immense potential for abuse--and Florida, in particular, has been a showcase for it. The most spectacular instance was the Miami mayoral election of 1997. Many absentee ballots were shown to be forged, coerced, stolen from mailboxes or fraudulently obtained. The Florida courts overturned the election in March 1998, removing Xavier Suarez from office and installing Joe Carollo instead. And absentee ballot irregularities in the 1993 Hialeah mayoral contest led a Florida judge to order a new election.

If there are irregularities, by all means persue legal remedies. I don't think anyone would have a problem with that.

Cases like these prompted Florida to pass the stringent requirements for absentee votes--clear postmarks, signatures, dates, voter identification numbers, witnesses--that have tripped up so many absentee ballots in the current brouhaha. Not only are some of the military ballots at issue; in Seminole County, Republican Party workers are accused of inappropriately adding voter identification numbers to thousands of absentee ballot applications that had been set aside for failing to meet the state's requirements.

I don't know that I would necessarily think of that as "inappropriate." How many people know (or could even find) their voter identification numbers? The application is returned. There's no ID number. The person there looks up the name on a list, and jots down the associated number in the appropriate space. There's still nothing there that ensures that, once the ballot is mailed out, the voter will vote one way or the other.

Even if ways are found to reduce or eliminate the problems of reliability that plague absentee voting, other headaches remain. Creating a system where a large number of people can vote long before Election Day changes the whole nature of a campaign....

So? Are voters to decide which candidate is more viable from whatever the spinmeisters choose to divulge in the final days? Norm (may I call you Norm?), this really sounds like a person addicted to exit polls and network predictions. And we know how well that worked out this time.

For better or worse, most citizens don't pay close attention to a race until shortly before the election; understandably, the candidates aim the heart of their message toward those final days and weeks. In the home stretch, revelations often emerge, changing the context of the election or the voters' evaluation of the candidates. So those early voters are, by definition, comparatively uninformed.

Most people probably don't pay much attention until the final days. But again, so what? It's like income tax -- there's a trickle of returns starting around February 1, a few more, a few more, and a BUNCH dropped in the mail on April 14.

And this "comparatively uninformed" stuff is a red herring. Get real, guy. Everyone basically knew the positions of each candidate long ago. Short of being caught in bed with a live boy or a dead woman, there isn't much that would have changed anyone's mind.

Just as significant, the current election underscores an embarrassing reality of widespread absentee voting--the counting takes too long. Votes that come in by mail take more time to arrive, more time to open, more time to verify, and more time to count...

The process needs some streamlining, to be sure. But again, what's the hurry? Miss those up-to-the-second incorrect predictions?

...It took more than two weeks for county election officials in Washington state to count hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots, leaving its critical Senate contest in limbo. "Final" returns gave Democrat Maria Cantwell a 1,953-vote lead, triggering an automatic machine recount that will take at least another week. In Oregon's universal vote-by-mail system, where all ballots had to be received by the close of business on Election Day, it took well over a week to determine who had carried the state's seven electoral votes. And in California, where more than 1 million voters cast absentee ballots, nearly 200,000 remained uncounted Friday.

It took a whole week to determine who got Oregon's electoral votes. Awwwww. Poor baby. But if you'll notice, all 100 current Senators are still Senators. There's a President sitting there even as we speak.

The absentee ballot revolution is changing the nature of voting in America. It is bringing increased participation, but at the risk of increased skulduggery. Now is the time, as this chaotic election inspires a broader discussion of the electoral system, to begin a counterrevolution, educating people about the true costs of this fad.

It's no fad. It's becoming necessary. The possibilities of skulduggery will have to be addressed -- as I'm sure they will in the next few years -- but the trend is there to be seen. Like it or not, this is the way it's evolving, Norm (may I call you Norm?). I'm sure there'll still be polling places available for those who choose to Stand With Their Neighbors. For me, I'd just as soon do it in the privacy of my home.

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 26, 2000.

,I'm here,

May I call you I'm? Are you OK?

-- (Norm@AEI_and.Cheers), November 26, 2000.

Fine thanks, Norm. You? (Ever have one of those mornings when you put way too much Tabasco in your coffee?)

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 26, 2000.

I'm Here, I'm There,

Washington Post article>"... in Seminole County, Republican Party workers are accused of inappropriately adding voter identification numbers to thousands of absentee ballot applications that had been set aside for failing to meet the state's requirements."

ImH,ImT>I don't know that I would necessarily think of that as "inappropriate."

What if you were supplied the additional information that (a) the Republican workers added voter identification numbers only to some absentee ballot applications and not to others and (b) Democratic workers were specifically denied their request to similarly review applications and add voter identification numbers (presumably to applications for which the Republicans had not filled in voter identification numbers)? Would you still not know whether you thought of that as inappropriate?

ImH,ImT>How many people know (or could even find) their voter identification numbers?

Well, according to the New York Times at, "The state enacted laws that were especially stringent on the issuing of absentee ballots after widespread fraud in the 1997 mayoral election in Miami led to the removal of Mayor Xavier Suarez. The laws say ballots may not be issued unless prospective voters provide identifying information, including their voter identification numbers."

ImH,ImT>The application is returned. There's no ID number. The person there looks up the name on a list, and jots down the associated number in the appropriate space. There's still nothing there that ensures that, once the ballot is mailed out, the voter will vote one way or the other.

... except, of course, that only one party's officials were allowed to decide which applications would have the voter identification number jotted, and which would be discarded for the same lack. So thousands of absentee ballots were mailed to voters who did not properly complete their applications but were illegally assisted by one party's officials while thousands of other voters in the same county did not receive absentee ballots when they made exactly the same omissions on their applications.

-- No Spam Please (, November 26, 2000.

BTW, I want all election illegalities to be prosecuted promptly, regardless of party affiliation of suspects.

-- No Spam Please (, November 26, 2000.

No Spam;

Given those conditions, you're absolutely correct. But I think if the process hadn't been so blatantly selective, no one would have noticed and no one would have cared. I agree that those found guilty of outright fraud (from any party) should be given a chance to become intimately acquainted with Big Bubba in the Seminole County Jail.

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 27, 2000.

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