The Disadvantages of Absentee Ballots

This is part of a two-part series evaluating absentee ballots, which are being used more and more often. The first part focused on their advantages. This second part will focus on their disadvantages.

The previous part discussed the two main advantages of absentee ballots: absentee ballots make it easier to vote and enable voters to have more information about obscure ballot measures and races.

Let’s look at the disadvantages. Actually, there’s only one big disadvantage of absentee ballots: the potential for fraud or voter intimidation.

With in-person voting voter intimidation is quite difficult. Nobody can see how a voter fills in the ballot in the voting booth. Somebody who attempted to see how a voter fills his or her ballot would immediately be arrested. So it’s quite difficult to influence voters with in-person voting.

Not so with absentee ballots. With absentee ballots, the burden of keeping the ballot from prying eyes falls on the voter. The voter is supposed to keep the ballot secret and hidden, rather than the government. People are allowed to “guide” voters or “help” them fill out the ballot. Of course, the guide or helper can pressure a voter to fill out the ballot “correctly.” That’s called voter intimidation.

This is not just hypothetical. It’s happened before. One hears stories of how in the 2008 presidential election Obama’s campaign held “voter parties” where supporters would fill out their absentee ballots together. One shudders to think what would have happened to a supporter who decided to vote Republican in a local race.

There’s also a high potential of fraud. In-person voter fraud requires a person to actually walk up to the voting station and impersonate a voter. Absentee ballot fraud just requires good signature-faking skills. It’s quite easy to catch a person impersonating a voter, but practically impossible to catch a person impersonating a voter’s signature.

That is the great disadvantage of absentee ballots: it’s much easier to do unethical things with them.

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6 Responses to The Disadvantages of Absentee Ballots

  1. msobel says:

    Could you give some links on the voter party because I have heard the same “some say” level of stories of bringing them to church.

    • msobel says:

      Not to argue against your argument. I agree there is a risk of coercion, but like the endangered species Votus Dollus Res Publica, I think it would useful to find out how much there is, if possible.

      • inoljt says:

        I was actually looking for the article that I’d read about the voter party thing while writing this post, but I couldn’t find it. It was several years ago, and newspapers always change their formatting so that articles end up lost…

        But the San Francisco example is a good example of how absentee ballots can be manipulated.

        Another example is, say, a campaign worker goes up to a conservative household and asks how the voted. The wife answers and says, “Oh, we already voted. We got our absentee ballots and my husband filled them out and mailed them.”

      • msobel says:

        I agree all those are possible but if possible, we should attempt to find out how often it occurs. The whole voter id scam is based on worrying about something that happens less than 1 in a million times. This too seems like it could be a chimera.

  2. Sophie says:

    There are more disadvantages than the one’s you’ve listed here. Namely
    – Something like 10-20% of absentee ballots are never counted, due to issues with the signature or etc.
    – Often, absentee ballots are not counted on the night of the election, influencing how the race is called. E.g. – Arizona at the moment.

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