Wednesday, August 18, 2004

absentee ballots no panacea

In the past few months, as we've heard more and more potential horror stories about ballot error and fraud--particularly in Florida--the general advice has been distilled down to one safe way to make sure your vote has a verifiable paper trail: use an absentee ballot. The most recent proponent of this solution was Paul Krugman in his NYT column.

However, the St. Petersburg Times has a different perspective. In an article dated August 8, 2004, the St. Pete Times provides information that suggests an entirely new set of horror stories. For example:

  • The new laws in Florida governing absentee ballots say that ballots no longer need to be postmarked at all. They merely need to be "dated" by election day, and be received by 10 days after election day. Although this provision was originally intended to accommodate military ballots, which may arrived unpostmarked, there is no restrictions. This provides a hugh avenue for fraud to take place after the election. And if the levels of absentee ballot use skyrockets as expected, a sudden influx of ballots after election day may be harder to detect.

  • With absentee ballots, there is no way to tell who has filled out the form. Prior to this year, ballots were required to be witnessed or notorized, but this requirement led to large numbers of ballots disqualified, so it was dropped.

  • Absentee ballots make it much easier for people who maintain residences in multiple states to vote twice. Florida's voter registration requirements have fairly lax residence requirements. As a result, people whose primary residence is outside Florida can still vote there.
So lets be a little more heads up about the ramifications of the various voting methods. Otherwise we're going to have a rude awakening come Nov 3.