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The main problems with mail-in (absentee) ballots

Original post made by Gary on Oct 19, 2008

There are two big ones, IMO.

1. They are not, really, secret ballots, if other members of the family, or associates, have a look at your ballot. You can claim anything, then go into an actual voting booth, and express your real views. However, mail-ins are subject to overview by dominant personalities. This is not some fantasy on my part...it is happening a lot, according to the stories I have heard. Why take a chance?

2. Things can change, near the end of the election cycle. If you already sent in your ballot, too late to change your mind.

The only safe and authenic ballot cast is the one done in a voting precinct, in a booth, on voting day, without anybody looking over your shoulder.

We are quickly heading down a very dangerous path, with absentee ballots. We should be trying to tighten up, and protect, the vote, not open it up to corruption. If people are too lazy to go the polls, then they are too lazy to be counted. For those who are handicapped, and cannot make it to a polling place, we should be bringing polling places to them (e.g. retirement homes). There should be a compelling, and reviewable, reason to issue an absentee balllot...and it should be a hard ballot to receive.

Comments (21)

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

And if people are too lazy to register?
I believe every ballot needs to come with a tear off fingerprint space, and that they all be checked for duplicate votes, with felony prosecution assured.
When absentee ballots were predominately republican, postal workers routinely delayed them, and we all know about the teams sent to challenge military ballots.
I have suggested that when an absentee ballot is rejected, the voter be given an opportunity to cure the defect before the polls close.


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Oct 20, 2008 at 12:33 am

Curious that Walter can only recall allegations of Democrats' dirty tricks...


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2008 at 5:46 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Come on, Skep, elucidate. Tell us about a republican Dick Tuck. Tell us about republicans who stash boxes of ballots all around ready to bring out when the vote runs the wrong way.


Posted by eden, a resident of Ventura
on Oct 20, 2008 at 11:32 am

eden is a registered user.

Gary:
1 - That is a very interesting point. I've never heard of anyone being coerced when voting with an absentee ballot, but it is conceivable. Can you cite any cases? I just mean, have any cases become public?
2 - I disagree with your second point. Except for the death of a candidate or retraction of a Proposition, i imagine that people can make up their minds without "last minute" revelations that are, almost by definition, of dubious quality.

And did you mean to insult people by saying "If people are too lazy to go to the polls..." ? There are large barriers to voting, for example, election day being a weekday and the polling place changing from time to time. These barriers are removed by voting by mail. A "lazy" person wouldn't bother to vote at all.

Walter_E_Wallis:
"When absentee ballots were predominately republican, postal workers routinely delayed them..." Wow. I have never heard of this. Can you point me to some information about this?
"I have suggested that when an absentee ballot is rejected, the voter be given an opportunity to cure the defect ..." That's the most sensible thing i've heard.

It seems to me that the voting system is needlessly cumbersome and could easily be improved. Everyone of voting age and qualification should be automatically "registered". In other words, what purpose does "registration" serve except to limit the number of voters. If someone has to show ID to register, which they don't now, then we should be able to just show up at the polls or sign-up for absentee ballots with the same verification and just vote. One step. Then have all Fire Stations, Police Stations and schools be open on a weekend, both days, as polling places. Simple and hardly anybody would have to miss work, get a babysitter, change religion or be inconvenienced at all to do the most fundamental thing a Democracy needs.

I am amazed that we don't have secure, verified internet voting yet. I do internet banking. That seems quite secure. What is holding this back?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2008 at 11:47 am

I remember my grandfather many years ago telling - yes telling - my grandmother who to vote for as they walked together to the polls. On the way back she meekly told him that she had done as he had suggested. Who knows if she really had used her own judgment or not? But if there had been a mail in ballot, I know he would have filled in both.


Posted by tj, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2008 at 11:52 am



Shots Fired at McCain-Palin Bus? Web Link


Wow, that is indeed unsettling.


Posted by Gary, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2008 at 12:16 pm

eden,

There are many public examples of voter coercion through the absentee ballot. You can just google the Internet see the subject discussed. Here is an example:

"The 2001 National Commission on Federal Election Reform, a bipartisan group co-chaired by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, found that local election officials have grown sloppy in handling absentee ballots. "Most states do not routinely check signatures either on applications or on returned ballots, just as most states do not verify signatures or require proof of identity at the polls," noted John Mark Hansen, the director of research for the commission's report.
The commission concluded that absentee ballots do not satisfy five essential criteria for sound and honest elections:

Assure the privacy of the secret ballot and protection against coerced voting.

Verify that only duly registered voters cast ballots.

Safeguard ballots against loss or alteration.

Assure their prompt counting.

Foster the communal aspect of citizens voting together."

Web Link

In my own extended family, there is a tradition of so-called "voting dinners", where many family members get together to discuss the ballot, and agree on their vote. The difference, now, is that the ballots actually get marked at these parties, in open view, and for review. I think this is a bad thing.

On point # 2, I think there can be real issues in the last month of the campaign, especially for undecided voters.

I like your idea of holding elections on the weekend, although I do not know what legislation would be required. I think people ARE lazy about voting. There has been a recent advertisement on TV about a handicapped, wheelchair-bound voter "doing the right thing"...she goes out in the rain, gets on the bus, ducks under the gate, enters the building and votes. I don't think it is asking too much to ask people to cast a truly secret ballot. There has much blood shed to gain that right, and a little sacrifice is in order to preserve it.

I completely disagree with online voting, becasue it not only has the same limitations as absentee voting, but it is also open to hackers.





Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2008 at 3:17 pm

So you object to absentee ballots, but aren't concerned about the issues we've had at polls in recent years--voters being denied legal votes, long waits in urban areas, running out of ballots.

And why? Because of the dysfunctional family effect!

Basically, you're speculating on what could go wrong to balance what we know has gone wrong.

And, gee, Gary, this wouldn't have anything to do with Obama's push to get his supporters to vote early? Do you have this feeling about military and overseas voters? Or do you trust them?


Posted by Gary, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2008 at 3:47 pm

OhlonePar,

I am all for INCREASING the number of polling places. I like the idea of a weekend polling time. I support a secret, legal ballot, period.

I think an absentee ballot should be hard to get. By its very definition, it means, "I will be ABSENT when the vote is taken". Very few people are absent...they are just too lazy to show up.

In case you have not figured it out, OP, military personnel, stationed overseas, ARE absent. Even with them, I would support a private place to individually fill out their ballots, seal their envelopes, and hand them over to a JAG officer, to be sent in to election authorities.

The secret ballot needs to be supported. The voters need to be legitimate. What is wrong with that idea, OP?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

When was the last time someone was punished for violating voting laws?


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2008 at 6:06 pm



We are going to see some serious jail time soon, the Feds have invoked the RICO Act against ACORN in many states, they will not give up.


Posted by Eddie the Electrician, a resident of Atherton
on Oct 20, 2008 at 9:03 pm

Walter, Sharon

Yes serious jail time. It is good that Republicans never commit voter registration fraud or any kind of fraud. Why there hasn't been a Republican arrested for voter fraud since, well, actually yesterday.

Web Link.

Jail time for Sarah the abuser of her vast executive experience.

As other posters have noted not much of a peep from y'all when absentee voters were my folks from Atherton.


Posted by tj, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2008 at 9:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2008 at 2:34 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Paying people to register voters is an invitation to fraud, and should stop. I don't want a return to the literacy test and poll tax of the South of my youth, but street corner registration makes about as much sense as does vending machine diplomas.
In the end, when you have piles of money some folk will show up with a shovel rather than a tablespoon, so the available moola needs to be restricted to functional needs rather than grand schemes.


Posted by Former Expat, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2008 at 2:37 am

Many American citizens live overseas vote by absentee ballot. If this is a close election, these will really needed to be monitored and counted correctly.


Posted by Pat Markevitch, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2008 at 11:10 am

I have always loved going to the polls on election day and casting my ballot. However, during the last general election, the voting machine I was using "crashed" twice. The poll volunteers had to re-set it both times. All I could do was cross my fingers and hope that the third time was the charm. It was after that day that I decided that unless there was a broad change to how these machines operated, I couldn't trust them. I now vote absentee and I feel more confident that my vote will actually be counted.


Posted by Gary, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2008 at 3:12 pm

" I now vote absentee and I feel more confident that my vote will actually be counted."

Pat,

If the absentee ballots are hand counted by two election workers, then you are probably correct, at least technically, about your fears of a tainted vote by machine. However, if the absentee ballots are entered into a computer, then you are no better off.

I don't think voting machines are a big issue, although I do see a real problem with online voting. IMO, the main problem with absentee ballots is undue influence on the individual voter...thus the secret ballot.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2008 at 3:31 pm

Gary, do you have anything besides a gut feel and a couple of anecdotes to back up your concern? The secret ballot option is still there.

You're talking about a pretty extreme degree of coercion. My spouse and I do talk about our ballots because, well, we're married, share very similar views and want the others input. My spouse then mails in an absentee ballot and I go hit the polls. I have the more flexible schedule.


Posted by Walter's Walrus, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Here you go, Walter--republican shenanigans on election day

Web Link


Posted by Gary, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2008 at 4:30 pm

"Gary, do you have anything besides a gut feel and a couple of anecdotes to back up your concern? The secret ballot option is still there."

OhlonePar,

If you are asking for a formal study, my answer is no. I cannot fathom how to run such a study. I have provided a link (above), headed by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, which expresses my concerns.

It will remain anecdotal evidence, unless some major scandal breaks. My neighbor, across the street, likes to cluck that he "controls five votes, including his own". He says that the absentee ballot allows him to "have a final look". Sounds a bit like you, with your wife, OP. The only truly secret ballot in your family is the one you cast at the polling place.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2008 at 9:16 pm

Gary,

What a bizarre notion you have. We exchange information--we don't decide one another's votes. I'm more up on local education issues, my spouse is more knowledgeable about the environment. Do we vote identically? No. Do I look at the ballot? Nope. I can't imagine wanting to do so.

It's a little different when you're a couple that shares the same political views. Honestly, I've never quite understood how the Carville-Matalin style combos work. Not to say that they don't--I just don't "get" it.

We have a similar worldview--that's part of our compatability--and there's far too much respect between us to think of one of us or the other trying to dictate the other's vote.

Though this does make me think of my conservative in-laws. Both were loyal Republicans and they didn't talk politics. Turned out both had secretly, though, voted for Dianne Feinstein over Mike Huffington without telling one another.


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