June 13, 2024

Absentee Voting Horror Stories

Absentee ballots are a common vector for election fraud, and several U.S. states have inadquate safeguards in their handling, according to a Michael story in today’s New York Times. The story recounts many examples of absentee ballot fraud, including blatant vote-buying.

For in-person voting, polling-place procedures help to authenticate voters and to ensure that votes are cast secretly and are not lost in transit. Absentee voting has weaker safeguards all around. In some states, party workers are even allowed to “help” voters fill out their ballots and to transport completed ballots to election officials. (The latter is problematic because certain ballots might be “lost” in transit.)

Traditional voting security relies on having many eyes in the polling place, watching what happens. Of course, the observers don’t see how each voter votes, but they do see that the vote is cast secretly and by the correct voter. Moving our voting procedures behind closed doors, as with absentee ballots, or inside a technological black box, as with paperless e-voting, undermines these protections.

Without safeguards, absentee ballots are too risky. Even with proper safeguards, they are at best a necessary compromise for voters who genuinely can’t make it to the polls.


  1. J.B. Nicholson-Owens says

    Absentee voting has significant problems that should be weighed. I know that you want your vote to be recorded on paper in a way that can be recounted, but absentee voting is often a means of making sure your vote doesn’t count at all. Absentee ballots are often not counted unless the race is very close. Absentee ballots tie a vote to a name posing a real risk for people who don’t vote according to how their employers, health care providers, etc. want them to vote. Absentee ballots offer no way to make sure that the ballot is accurate–how can we be sure the ballot wasn’t cast under duress? Absentee ballots may be convenient, but they have profound shortcomings and overall I do not recommend their use.

    It’s not a question of finding a perfect voting system, it’s a question of understanding the advantages computers grant us and limiting their use so nobody has the power to misuse electronic voting.

  2. jordan vance says

    Not when the brother of the president up for reelection runs the state and his underlings do this:
    Florida Ballots

    I’m all for a fair, open (by which I mean the process isn’t obscured) voting system where everyone has the right to choose who they want to elect. But when there is an obvious vested interest in circumventing putting people on the ballot legally, I think the whole election system needs to be rethought, not just the voting aspect.

  3. There is no perfect system, no?

  4. How depressing!

    In the face of the problems with electronic
    voting machines, my wife and I are voting
    using absentee ballots this year. Since we
    have the big Republican donors at Dibold
    making voting machines, absentee ballots seemed
    like a reasonable alternative. So it is
    disturbing to realize that absentee ballots
    can also serve as a way to buy votes.

  5. I’m glad to see some attention being directed to the problems with non-electronic voting systems. The notion that only electronic voting systems have problems and that everything will be solved by going to paper has become far too prevalent.

    Oregon has had 100% vote by mail since 1998. They have completely abolished polling places. Other states as the article mentions have very high percentages of absentee votes.

    The ideal election scenario with friendly but watchful neighborhood monitors keeping an eagle eye on the proceedings has become a myth. The security community in particular needs to become realistic and to stop comparing fielded systems with nonexistent ideals.