Snail Mail Election Fail: 21% Of Absentee Ballots Not Counted

A new report finds that 1 in 5 requested absentee mail-in election ballots never got counted in 2008, recommending that voters instead turn to polling places with electronic voting machines. So-called non-precinct voting has nearly doubled since 2000, rising from 14% to 28% in 2008. “It is clear that mail-in balloting faces administrative questions before we can be confident that it is as reliable as the in-person voting methods,” explains the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project report.

Mail-in ballots are a well-intentioned alternative to physical voting: it permits people in the military and overseas to participate, helps those who can’t get off work mid-week, and encourages lazy citizens with a low-effort procedure. However, a review of research on mail-in ballots finds mixed results on the actual impacts, with fraud a definite problem. Experimental evidence finds that mail-in voting can actually lower turnout by about 2.6%, except in special or less publicized elections, where it raises turnout by 7.6%.

Ironically, Obama’s administration has pushed early and mail-in voting, staging a photo-op as the first president (and first lady) in American history to mail in a ballot. It is even more ironic considering that Republicans are more likely to be mail-in voters. In 2008, 47% of Republicans were absentee voters, 36% were Democrats. Florida is a bit of a special case, however, where Republican officials have made it exceptionally easy to vote by mail-in. Democrats, the The New York Times, notes, are more likely to be early voters. Though, given that the election will be decided in just a few swing states, it is unclear whether the difficulty in mail-in voting will change the outcome of the election.

The real solution to the problem is Internet voting, which the tiny technological powerhouse of Estonia has enjoyed since 2007. However, Estonia also has a national ID, which president Toomas Hendrik Illves has said is essential to secure, reliable government services.

Until then, it might behoove voters to put on some sunscreen, tie up their shoelaces, and go greet fellow voters in real life.

[Image Credit: Obama For America]