Absentee voting

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This article generally discusses absentee voting in the United States.


Absentee voting is a vote by mail or delivered to the polling place by someone other than the voter instead of the voter showing up in person to vote at the polling place on Election Day.

Reasons for absentee voting

People traveling or away in the military are examples of people who vote absentee, but more and more people are using absentee ballots for convenience or to avoid Election Day lines.

Absentee voting in the states

Some states require that a reason, such as infirmity or travel, be given before a voter can cast an absentee ballot. Absentee voting by mail is allowed for any reason in 28 states, and with a reason in 22. Four states allow a voter to become a permanent absentee voter with no reason. Early voting in person is allowed with no excuse required in 31 U.S. states and with an excuse in 3. 16 states do not allow any early voting. The District of Columbia requires a reason for both early voting and absentee voting.[1][2]


In Maine, any voter may cast an absentee ballot and is not required to give a reason. They must fill out an application, available from the Secretary of State or their town clerk, and turn it in by hand or mail. They are then given or mailed a ballot, which must be returned to the town clerk by hand or by mail before the polls close on Election Day. Absentee Ballot applications are available at http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/absent.htm. Ballots may be requested up to three months before an election. The ballots are available 30 to 45 days before an election. Maine voters can find their town at http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/clerk.htm.


Unlike any other state, Oregon mails ballots to all residents, who are then supposed to fill out the ballot and either mail it back to the elections official or bring it to a drop box. As with most states, Oregon residents must register in advance to be able to vote via absentee ballot.


In 1997 the Texas legislature passed a bill allowing residents to cast absentee ballots from space, because of the presence of the NASA Johnson Space Center and the astronauts that live in the Houston metropolitan.[3]


Originally, absentee ballots in Washington State were mailed prior to election day to those voters who contacted their local county by indicating that they would be unable to vote at their local polling place on election day. In 1993, the state began allowing all voters to vote by mail on a permanent basis. Since that time, voting by mail has gained in popularity, and the term "absentee ballot" has become synonymous with voting by mail. According to the Secretary of State, in 2006, over 88% of all voters cast votes using the vote-by-mail method. Currently all but two of the state's 39 counties have switched entirely to vote-by-mail (King County and Pierce County). Many counties provide drop boxes throughout the county to allow voters to drop off their ballot on or prior to election day, rather than paying postage by sending it through the mail. [4] Washington State will be 100% mail-in in the 2010 elections.

Absentee ballot laws in America

No-fault absentee balloting

A majority of states have "no-fault" absentee balloting, meaning that there is no excuse needed in order to be granted an absentee ballot.

This practice has been criticized by organizations including the Heritage Foundation who has been adamant on this issue, citing the 1999 convictions of 11 county officials and politicians in Greene County, Alabama for voter fraud in the 1994 county elections. The Heritage Foundation has argued that absentee ballots should be reserved for individuals who cannot vote in person at their assigned polling place on Election Day or at early voting sites prior to the election, due to illness or disability, or for voters who cannot vote in person because, for example, they are soldiers stationed overseas, because the risk of fraud is too high. Heritage advocates the alternative in place in some states, where early voting statutes allow in-person voting at government-run polling places for a certain amount of time prior to Election Day. From an election integrity standpoint, early voting has been argued by Heritage as a much safer alterna­tive to expanded absentee balloting.[5]

Third party absentee ballot applications

A growing source of absentee voting fraud complaints have been over absentee ballot applications being distributed by third party organizations such as Presidential Campaigns, political parties, etc. During the 2008 elections, there has been increased complaints against both Presidential Campaigns over the legitmacy of absentee ballot applications being distributed by third party organizations. The Heritage Foundation and the National Campaign for Fair Elections argue that state laws should allow only voters, their immediate family members, or their caregivers to deliver absentee ballots either to the post office or directly to election officials[6].

Signature and witness verification

Since the 2000 electoral chaos in Florida, more states have had requirements for voters that vote absentee to have a witness sign off on the certification on the envelope and or also submit a photocopy of photo ID when submitting an absentee ballot. This measure has been long argued by organizations like the National Campaign for Fair Elections and the Heritage Foundation.[7]

Absentee ballot vote fraud

Absentee ballot vote fraud is when votes that were cast via an absentee ballot are not counted, or when fraudulent absentee ballots are successfully counted.

The United States Department of Justice in a 2006 Report defined the following actions that constitute absentee voting fraud[8].

  • Voting or attempting to vote more than once during the same election as someone may vote absentee in the one municipality as an absentee voter and votes again in person in the same or different municipality on election day.
  • Knowingly causing to be mailed or distributed, or knowingly mailing or distributing, literature that includes false information about absentee ballot information, voter’s precinct or polling place, the date and time of the election or a candidate.
  • Intentionally changing, attempting to change, or causing to be changed an official election document including ballots, tallies, and returns.
  • Intentionally delaying, attempting to delay, or causing to be delayed the sending of certificate, register, ballots (in-person or absentee) or other materials whether original or duplicate required to be sent by jurisdictional law.
  • Intentionally making a false affidavit, swearing falsely, or falsely affirming under an oath required by a statute regarding their voting status, including when registering to vote, requesting an absentee ballot or presenting to vote in person.
  • Registering to vote whether in person or absentee without being entitled to register.
  • Knowingly making a materially false statement on an application for voter registration, absentee ballot or early voting, or re-registration.
  • Voting or attempting to vote in an election after being disqualified or when the person knows that he or she is not eligible to vote.

Also other cases of absentee ballot fraud include:

  • many people may choose to live in a certian city or state for only as long as needed to vote in an election depending on state law[9].
  • People who work in the city government they vote in but they do not live in the city of jurisdiction at the time of the election[10].

Trends of absentee balloting

Who votes absentee

A Commission on National Electoral Reform hosted by former US Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter revealed that types of people are very prone to vote absentee out of sheer necessity are students, retirees, persons with permanent disabilities, and members of the armed forces are all several times more likely to vote absentee than other Americans.

The 2001 study also argued that the use of absentee ballots also has a class bias. People with better educations, higher incomes, and more prestigious jobs are more likely to vote absentee. The highest rates of absentee usage are among holders of graduate and professional degrees and among persons with the very highest family incomes. Also, the report has cited with other independent reports that people in managerial and professional occupations are the most likely to use absentee voting. Citizens of higher social and economic status are not only more likely to need to vote absentee—because they are traveling on business, for instance—but also more likely to know that they will have to plan ahead to obtain an absentee ballot.

Liberalization of absentee voting laws

Since the 1970's according to the Ford-Carter commission report that California started the trend in which many states now today offer no-fault absentee balloting. California in 1978 liberalized access to absentee ballots in which paved the way for 22 states now make an absentee ballot available to any registered voter who requests one, without need to show cause. Thirty-two percent of the voting age citizen population lives in a state that provides an absentee ballot automatically upon request according to the Ford-Carter Commission Report. Many states in the South have stricter laws requiring an verifiable excuse such as traveling on business, disablity, illness, or a college student living out of state as how they can grant an absentee ballot at fault.

The Ford-Carter commission report also cited that no-fault absentee balloting increased voter turnout. The Ford-Carter Commission report stated that in 1980, just as the movement toward liberalization of access to absentee ballots was begun, five percent of voters nationwide cast their votes by absentee ballot. In 1996, 10 percent nationwide voted prior to Election Day, either by mail (8 percent), mostly by absentee voting, or in-person before Election Day (3 percent), mostly by early voting. In states with liberal access to voting before Election Day, the percentages are still higher. Thirty-nine percent of the 2000 presidential vote in Texas was cast early, and 24.6 percent of the 2000 vote in California was by absentee.

Still, there has not been any evidence that tougher absentee ballot laws are turning away voters as this year in 2008, states like Ohio and Wisconsin are seeing record amounts of requests for absentee ballots and early voting keeping municipal clerks busy[11].

Absentee voting outside of the U.S.

In Ireland, postal votes are only available in a restricted set of circumstances. The Irish constitution requires a secret ballot and the courts have interpreted this quite narrowly. Postal votes are available to people who by reason of their occupation, cannot vote normally. They are also available to students living away from home, to people with disabilities, to prisoners (since January 2007), and to long term residents of hospitals, nursing homes and other similar institutions.

In the Netherlands, liberalised proxy voting is available. Voters can authorise someone else to cast their ballot without having to go through a registration procedure. Voters can cast a maximum of 2 proxy votes along with their own ballot. Postal ballots and Internet voting are only available to Dutch citizens living abroad, or having occupational duties abroad on election day.[12]

In all United Kingdom elections, postal votes are available on demand - no reason must be given - although a vote rigging scandal involving postal votes marred the 2005 Birmingham local election.[13]

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