Thursday, November 01, 2012

Abuses of Early & Absentee Voting Are a Danger

Opinions expressed are those of the author, not necessarily the editors of the Insider

For the first time in any state virtually all voters in Ohio were this year mailed absentee ballot applications. Normally, a voter who does not expect to be physically present on Election Day applies for an absentee ballot. 

With the presidential election expected to hinge on Ohio, the state’s former secretary of state, Republican Kenneth Blackwell, is warning that a little-known change in the Buckeye State’s absentee-ballot process could lead to a “nightmare scenario.”

And that scenario could force the entire country to wait 10 days after the election to find out who will be the next president of the United States. It’s a complicated situation, to say the least, but one that could have a far-reaching impact on the Nov. 6 election process...

The concern is that thousands of Ohio voters may complete the absentee-ballot application and receive an absentee ballot, but not bother to complete and mail in the ballot. 

Anyone who is sent an absentee ballot — including those who do not complete it and mail it in — and later shows up at the polls on Election Day to cast their ballot in person will be instructed to instead complete a provisional ballot and, and under Ohio election law, provisional ballots cannot be opened until 10 days after an election. 

One estimate is that there could upwards of 250,000 of these provisional ballots to be counted 10 days after the election, not an insignificant number in a state where there is  expectation  of a very close election. Read more about the Ohio election here.

This writer believes that this will not be a close election, that Mitt Romney will be elected with a strong  majority of both the popular and electoral votes. However, we cannot risk another Florida type scenario where the results are not known for days or weeks afterward. Lax voter ID requirements, rampant in person early voting, and abuse of the absentee ballot process are some areas where changes are required if we are to remain confident in the accuracy of our electoral processes.
A generation or two ago Americans regarded voting  an important civic duty and turned out on the day set aside for the purpose of electing their officials and representatives. In mid 19th century Congress decided that Election Day would be the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a date scheme already used in the state of New York. The reason for settling on Tuesday:
In 1845, the United States was largely an agrarian society. Farmers often needed a full day to travel by horse-drawn vehicles to the county seat to vote. Tuesday was established as election day because it did not interfere with the Biblical Sabbath or with market day, which was on Wednesday in many towns. Source
Many people argue that times have changed, and indeed they have; that a Tuesday election is more than a little inconvenient. Although not a federal holiday, Election Day is a civic holiday in some states, including DelawareHawaiiKentuckyMontanaNew JerseyNew YorkOhioWest Virginia, and the territory of Puerto Rico. Some other states require that workers be permitted to take time off from employment without loss of pay. A move to hold elections on a weekend day, that could be declared a national holiday, finds great favor generally but Congress has not moved to alter the date. 

Great changes have occurred over the years in the ways we cast our ballots. More problematic than the inconvenience of Tuesday elections is the trend in recent years to allow early, in person, voting. Early, in person, voting  is a procedure that is now followed in 32 states plus the District of Columbia.  In most of those states, during a period designated prior to Election Day, a voter simply goes to a voting center and casts a ballot.

Only Connecticut, Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi,New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island do not allow early in person voting. Only 7 of the 32 states allowing early in person voting require a valid excuse to vote ahead of Election Day. The excuses are generally similar to the absentee ballot requirements in Connecticut (see below). Curiously, voting in Washington and Oregon is by mail only. ( though all voting in Washington is done by-mail, you can vote in person at your local elections offices if you wish to do so)

Under Connecticut law you may apply for an absentee ballot in which you affirm that you will not be physically present on Election Day because:

-You are ill -You have a physical disability which makes it difficult for you to get to the polls
-Your religion forbids you from participating in non-religious activities on election day
-Your required performance of duties as a primary, referendum, or election official at a polling place other than your own during all the hours on election day.

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