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Absentee ballotting fraught
with risks, legal scholar says
Business and Law Editor
rising popularity of absentee voting, especially the use of “no-excuse”
absentee ballots, poses a risk of vote tampering and election fraud,
a University of Illinois legal scholar argues.
In the name of offering voters flexibility and saving the government
money, more than 25 states, including California, Florida and Ohio,
have enacted laws letting registered voters cast a ballot before Election
Day without providing a reason.
In addition, 20 states permit early voting by mail, and about 15 states
offer voters permanent absentee status, which lets them register to
vote absentee for an indefinite period.
Jessica A. Fay writes that voting outside of the polling place on Election
Day carries with it the danger that absentee ballots can be collected
and turned in by partisans. Or that voters can be pressured by campaign
workers or others in ways that are not possible when ballots are cast
in secret at a polling booth.
“With a growing elderly population and insufficient absentee-ballot
regulation, it may be only a short time before the public spotlight
shifts from the remnants of the infamous butterfly ballot debacle of
the 2000 presidential election to the increasingly critical issue of
absentee voter fraud,” she wrote in the Elder
Law Journal, published by the University of Illinois College
In many states with large numbers of seniors, including Illinois, allegations
of absentee-ballot fraud have been reported. In Chicago, for example,
a man reportedly helped 35 seniors apply for absentee ballots at a senior
housing center during the 2002 primary, then returned several weeks
later to illegally punch their signed ballots.
Traditionally, according to Fay, absentee voting was permitted only
for limited groups of people, including soldiers and other U.S. citizens
stationed abroad, and for voters with disabilities that restricted their
ability to come to polling stations. “Over the last 30 years,
there has been a significant movement away from the traditional polling
place, instead embracing the concept of ‘convenience voting,’
” she wrote.
Several factors have triggered this change, most notably a concern about
the low voter turnout rates in America and the belief that absentee
voting was a good way to increase turnout.
Among elderly voters, the problem of campaign workers interfering with
voting, especially in retirement and nursing homes, has been documented
in a number of jurisdictions. Several states require election officials
to oversee balloting if a certain number of absentee ballots are requested
at a retirement or nursing home, but most states have no laws tailored
to curb absentee-voter abuse.
Especially under the system of no-excuse absentee voting, the possibilities
of coercion or other irregularities are numerous. “Once an elector
has qualified to vote in absentia, or is permitted to do so based on
a state enacted no-excuse absentee voting provision, he or she receives
a ballot in the mail, makes his or her balloting choices, and returns
the ballot to the proper authorities. But what happens while the ballot
is in the hands of the voter is unknown to election officials,”
In 2002, Congress responded to the widespread flaws in the 2000 presidential
election by requiring states to replace faulty punch-card systems. The
federal Election Assistance Commission was set up to establish best
practices for state and local voting systems.
The Illinois scholar calls on Congress to direct EAC to focus attention
absentee-voting procedures, with a goal of “establishing the foundation
of a more uniform and effective system of absentee voting.”
For example, the 2002 law requires that each state implement a “single,
uniform, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter
registration list” that contains the name and registration information
of every legally registered voter in the state.
By utilizing these databases, states could maintain accurate lists of
absentee voters, thereby flagging irregularities in ballot submissions,
such as unusual surges in the number of ballots cast in a particular
Her article is titled, “Elderly Electors Go Postal: Ensuring Absentee
Ballot Integrity for Older Voters.”