Thursday, October 25, 2012


Larry Greenemeier, writes for Scientific American. He sites a study about voting by mail that may make you reconsider that practice.

The biggest challenge to voting accuracy in the U.S. isn’t hanging chads or hacked voting machines—it’s the mail. A new report by the Voting Technology Project (VTP)—a joint venture between the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—finds that even though absentee ballots account for about only a quarter of all ballots cast during an election, the number of uncounted absentee and election-day ballots may be roughly the same.

The researchers estimate that up to 3.9 million absentee ballots were requested but not received by voters in the 2008 presidential election. Another 2.9 million ballots sent to voters requesting them were not returned for counting. And 800,000 returned absentee ballots were rejected for one reason or another. In all, 21 percent of requested absentee ballots were never counted in 2008—35.5 million requests for absentee ballots led to 27.9 million mail-in ballots being counted.

The researchers acknowledge that they can only speculate as to what happens to these uncounted absentee ballots. In some cases, they note, absentee ballots can be intercepted before they even get into the mail stream. Other concerns are that people can buy or sell these ballots. There aren’t any strict chain-of-custody procedures for ensuring that the person who receives an absentee ballot in the mail is the same person who returns it, the researchers say.

Absentee and early voting has long been available to military personnel and voters unable to cast ballots in their home districts, but this convenience has more recently been extended to encourage people to vote and to ease the sometimes chaotic conditions found at polling stations on election day. Currently 36 states (plus the District of Columbia) now offer no-excuse absentee ballots, early voting or some combination of the two. Oregon and Washington have done away with traditional polling places entirely. All voting there is conducted by mail.

The report’s authors argue that the country needs to reverse the trend towards increased absentee and early voting. States should discourage absentee balloting among voters who do not require this service, they say. Likewise, election officials should quash the idea of Internet voting until the technology can be secured and audited. The researchers also call for additional research into new methods to get usable ballots to military and overseas civilian voters securely, accurately and quickly, and to make sure those ballots are returned in time to be counted.

The practice makes me wonder. Before going on the road with Jim, I worked our polls every year. There are so many inconsistencies in the way voting is regulated from state to state that it gave me pause. The rules can change from year to year. Such as: a person who Decline To State, is given a ballot with no party candidates on it. That person can request any ballot, Rebublican, Democrat, Green Party etc. but you are not allowed to tell them that or ask them what ballot they want to vote. Some come in shocked that their ballots didn’t contain the names of the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates on their primary ballot.  (But, mums the word.)  I thought that was a stupid rule.

At our polls, you can watch the county employees counting the vote. But, not the absentee ballots that are counted later. I think our county deserves a good conduct medal for how they conduct the voting, but there is plenty of room for abuse if a rigidly partisan person is the Supervisor of Voting.


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