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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 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.

More below.

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.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichaelNY, WisJohn

    by Inoljt on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 04:39:23 PM PST

  •  Test. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    by Inoljt on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 04:41:41 PM PST

  •  My folks moved to FL (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    a year ago -- my mom found voting that behemoth bundle challenging enough at home in her living room, let alone standing in a booth with folks waiting for her to finish!

  •  CA voters also get a thick voter info booklet (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichaelNY, Alibguy

    with their polling place listed on the back cover from the Secretary of State - it includes statements from all the candidates, the text of the propositions and statements pro & con on each of those, so CA voters have materials with which to prepare for voting.

    "This is the best bad idea we have by far..." ~Argo

    by MsGrin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 05:06:34 PM PST

  •  We really need to get the FL African American (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    community behind the absentee ballot. They can make the souls to the polls be about taking your ballot to the drop off place. This will seriously keep the lines down and once they get used to it, it comes to them automatically for each election and then we have a huge guaranteed group of folks voting in each election

    Pastors need to make this plea to the community and then help everyone request an absentee ballot online.

    •  I'm sort of glad we don't (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MichaelNY, NM Ward Chair

      I know part 2 is the disadvantages, but the reason I don't use it is the fear they may disqualify my signature. If that happens, you don't have any recourse. I think it would also make it easy to target disenfranchising certain demographics. The good thing about early voting if you have time to deal with any of this type of BS they fling at you.

  •  They are incredibly important (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichaelNY, Dirtandiron

    ... for GOTV.  All the banked votes make for an easier Election Day.  Less people to track down and remind to vote.

    The last two elections, I know of dozens of votes that were lost.  Young person dies (motorcycle accident for one example) on election eve.  A bunch of people are stunned and do not vote as they're responding to the loss, having a funeral &c.  Had they voted early, we wouldn't have lost the votes.

    "Taxes are for the little people." Leona Helmsley (before she went to jail for taking that attitude a bit too far)

    by Land of Enchantment on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 06:45:30 PM PST

    •  and then of course... (4+ / 0-)

      there's us expats, who wouldn't be able to vote at all without them ;)

      I assume Inoljt is discussing the benefits of absentee ballots for people who aren't actually absentees...

      Living in Kyoto-06 (Japan), voting in RI-01, went to college in IL-01.

      by sapelcovits on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 01:33:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  IMHO, early voting is better (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      First, if there are problems with your registration you find out right away.  Second, you don't have to pay to send in your ballot, (OR and WA have solutions to this problem.)  Third, any voter can get a sample ballot online, do her research, and take it with them to the polls.  Fourth, and most importantly, there are no chain of custody issues!! Once you have voted, you know your vote will be counted.  When you vote by mail, you are trusting all the hands your ballot must pass through, and you are trusting that you have not made some error which will invalidate your ballot.  Moreover, if you make some error, you can spoil the ballot and get a new one.  If you make an error on a vote-by-mail ballot, you're screwed!  (Or at least your ballot will be counted by hand after the election, and you may not know that you have made an error.)  Most spoiled ballots on election day in my polling place were discovered when the tabulator rejected an overvoted ballot.  

      President Barack Hussein Obama!!

      by NM Ward Chair on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 07:51:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hmmn (0+ / 0-)
    t turned out that all three candidates I'd picked were close relatives of firefighters!
    Yeah, gotta keep those firefighters and their fellow travelers out of the government. In fact, I think we should ask potential candidates if they are or ever were firefighters! I have in my possession a list of several known firefighters in government. They already control the fire department, what's next? snark

    Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

    by Dirtandiron on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:55:28 PM PST

    •  I have nothing against firefighters. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MichaelNY, NM Ward Chair

      In fact, I think that they do a great job and I'd be proud to vote for a firefighter for any statewide or federal office.

      But when you have a board that's supposed to bargain with firefighters over their salary, and when people on that board are relatives of firefighters, that's an obvious conflict of interest.

      by Inoljt on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 02:06:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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