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These are the Major Problems Associated With Absentee Ballots

Buzzle Staff Jun 10, 2019
Every election has its problems, and no electoral system is perfect. But implementing an imperfect program is just paying lip service to the affected population without addressing the issue - which is exactly why absentee ballots cause problems in every election cycle.
In the U.S., every effort is made to make sure that every vote counts come election day (at least in theory). To this end, absentee ballots seem like a great idea - voting by mail when getting to the designated polling place is not feasible.
The issue affects people from all walks of life. Some people are too old or sick to leave home, others temporarily live far away from their home district, some don't have transportation, others can't get time off work.
Yet in every election, absentee ballots present a problem that results in some legitimate votes not being counted. The idea is fine, but the way it is implemented must be fixed.


First, because each state sets their own election rules, the qualifications for absentee voting differ greatly. Twenty two states allow absentee voting for any reason, while 28 require a valid excuse as outlined in the state's election code.
No matter how valid your reason for wanting to vote absentee may be, if it doesn't fall within the state's guidelines (which can be pretty narrowly-defined), you will not be issued an absentee ballot.
Herein lies another issue - you must request an absentee ballot ahead of time, usually well before election day itself. If an issue arises suddenly that will prevent you from going to the polls, you are out of luck. Only Oregon and Washington mail ballots to all citizens, effectively conducting entire elections via absentee ballot.


The second problem is the issue of ballot clarity. As Florida demonstrated in the 2000 election, some ballots are anything but self-explanatory. If you vote in person at the polling place, there are officials present to answer your questions and show you how to fill out your ballot.
If you vote absentee, you are left to your own devices. Sure, the absentee ballot comes with instructions, but those instructions are written by the same people who designed the ballots themselves - how helpful are they, really?

While figuring out a ballot seems like a simple thing for adults, what if a voter has vision problems or motor control issues?
What if that person is illiterate? Our country allows every single citizen to vote - this means that we should make sure every single citizen is able to cast a vote. Polling places offer touchscreen voting and other accommodations for those unable to cast a regular ballot - absentee voting offers none of this.

Identity Questions

The issue of voter fraud came to a head in 2012, with many states adopting new voter ID laws. When voting in person, most voters had to show a government-issued photo ID and sign the voter roll so the signature on the roll and the signature on the ID could be visually matched by an official.
Because absentee ballots are cast from the privacy of home, obviously no official can verify the signature - so there are several places on the ballot that require the voter's signature, so they can be compared to each other (fraudulent signatures generally don't match each other as well as genuine signatures).
The problem has arisen, however, that officials counting the votes have gotten extremely picky about the matches and have in some cases not accounted for natural variations in handwriting, throwing out legitimate votes over the difference of the style of a single letter.
These are not people trained in handwriting analysis, just vote counters - so who are they to decide that a signature is fraudulent when perhaps the voter just sneezed while signing?

The other ID issue is that who's to say that the signature is valid even if it matches perfectly?
Especially in the case of the elderly, when a home health aide may fill out the ballot for them - who can guarantee that the voter in question witnessed the aide filling out the ballot according to the voter's wishes? Who can guarantee that the actual voter signed the ballot?

Mailing Issues

The final issue with absentee ballots is perhaps the most pervasive - the mailing issue. Some states have a habit of sending ballots out rather close to the deadline (strategically, some might say). Once the voter receives the ballot, they still must account for transit time, back to the election board.
If you factor in the pace of the postal system and the fact that some of these people (military) may be overseas, you get no guarantee that the ballots will reach the elections board by the deadline (have postcards arrive weeks after you returned from vacation?) Add the risk of the ballot getting altogether lost in the mail, and the issue looks worrisome.
The upshot is that you should try not to vote absentee unless you absolutely have to. But the bigger picture is that although the absentee voting system is a necessary system, it is a broken system that must be fixed before we can honestly say that every vote counts.