No-Excuse Absentee Voting – Unintended Consequences

As the Connecticut legislature, Secretary of the State candidates, and our current Secretary of the State contemplate following Florida’s lead in expanding mail-in voting, including considering no-excuse absentee voting, we have this cautionary tale from Florida.

This is another fast-food-like voting issue.  We like no excuse absentee voting, just like we enjoy fast, fatty food – the problem is that they both have unintended consequences.  Yet, most voters and many eaters are not aware of the known risks.

Voting by mail has increased in popularity, but has unintended consequences <read>
Absentee voters have changed the election cycle

By: Brendan McLaughlin

TAMPA – Absentee ballots are flying off the presses and into people’s homes in record numbers. Hillsborough county will send out possibly four times more ballots than they did just ten years ago.

A main reason according to Hillsborough County’s election chief of staff, Craig Latimer is convenience.

“In today’s world people are busy. They may not be able to take time off to be at the polls on Election Day” said Latimer.

Florida’s rules for absentee voting were loosened in 2000 after the close and chaotic presidential race of that year. Since then every county in the Bay Area has seen dramatic increases in the number of those voting by mail.

USF political science professor, Susan MacManus says candidates and their campaigns like and encourage early voting.

“It does lock in voters early and let’s you spend the last day of the campaign micro targeting those who haven’t yet voted” said MacManus.

Absentee voting by mail has its risks for candidates and voters. The method is considered more vulnerable to mischief and outright fraud. In 2009, voters in a special State Senate election were persuaded to send their ballots to a private mail box instead of the elections office in an apparent attempt to void their votes. But more often the problem is human error.

In 2008, the Hillsborough elections office under then supervisor, Buddy Johnson misplaced 846 absentee ballots. They were found in an office more than a week after the election. Craig Latimer points out that since he took over as chief of staff changes have been made.

“Daily those ballots are brought to this office and stored in a secure area under surveillance camera twenty four hours a day. That can’t happen again” promised Latimer.

Voters also take a risk in returning their absentee ballots too early because a lot can happen in the last days of a campaign. MacManus says the downside for the voter is if they vote early via absentee or early voting and something dramatic breaks toward the end of the campaign, they can’t change their mind.

Here is a recent quote from our current Secretary of the State, from the Litchfield County Times: <read>

Ms. Bysiewicz said she also would “love” to see early voting in Connecticut, in which a ballot is mailed to voters weeks before the election and they can complete it and then submit the ballot to their local town hall.

Reports have indicated that it has boosted turnout and parents will talk to their children about how they plan to vote.

Ms. Bysiewicz said it produced positive results in Florida and North Carolina during the 2008 presidential election.

It is interesting to contemplate Connecticut following Florida’s lead in this area when the risks are known.  If we do go this way, there truly will be noexcuse for unintended consequences.

There other reasons to be concerned with large scale absentee voting, along with frequent tales of problems across the country, see recent posts here, here, and here.

Update: 8/23/2010 – Early Voting expensive in Florida <read>

according to Florida’s Division of Elections, statewide, only 361,615 people took advantage of the two week early voting period.

That’s just a little bit more than 3% of all registered voters. That’s right 3.25% to be exact…

When you break it down by the tax dollars needed to man these locations. Tax payers pay between $35 and $56 dollars per voter for early voting or an average of $21.29 a voter county wide.

In Broward County it breaks down to $33.16 per voter for early voting.

In Monroe County, 1599 voters took advantage of early voting, costing a total of $15,640, or $9.78 per voter.


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