New Book On Absentee Ballot Problems

AT LEAST you have to give John Fortier credit for trying. Last week, while every other political scientist and scandal-sniffing, goo-goo reformer was lamenting run-of-the-mill Election-Day difficulties–long lines, hiccuppy voting machines, bullying and incompetent poll workers–Fortier was trying to draw attention to a problem that is far more consequential, and far more radical: Election Day itself is about to disappear.

Fortier is a political scientist with the American Enterprise Institute. A few weeks ago he published a new book, Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises, and Perils. The book’s thesis is as follows: Thanks to such recent election reforms as early voting, vote-by-mail, and unrestricted access to absentee ballots–together known as “convenience voting”–“our nation is steadily moving away from voting on election day.” Early estimates suggest that one in four votes this year was cast before November 7. The percentage has increased with every national election since 1980.

And then this choice quote:

Which explains why the reforms spread and flourish, even though no data support them and most observers agree they greatly increase the danger of vote fraud. Convenience voting is popular because it’s convenient–of course–but the convenience is of a kind that particularly suits the needs of . . . people like the reformers. “These new procedures,” Gans told me, “are for lazy middle-class and affluent people who would normally vote anyway but just want to make it easier on themselves.”


Voting Editorial New York Times

Critics of electronic voting raise two main issues: machines are susceptible to fraud (or hacking) and they are difficult to use.

Fraud problems would not go away if we switched to vote by mail, as Oregon has. Such voting — let’s call it mandatory absentee balloting — takes the voter out of the polling booth and puts him at home or elsewhere, someplace where votes could be sold to the highest bidder. Most of the documented cases of voting fraud in the United States in recent years involve absentee ballots. At the beginning of the last century, voter turnout declined as states adopted secret, in-person balloting, most likely because corrupt politicians stopped buying votes since they couldn’t verify that people were really voting for their candidate.

True, squeaky-clean Oregon has been able to use the vote-by-mail system. But it is not clear that clean elections could be held in places with more rancorous partisan disputes over election rules and vote counting. And mail-in ballots don’t eliminate the problem anyway: losers still have an incentive to claim fraud and try to get a close election result overturned. Public opinion on the integrity of the election process is volatile, and surveys show losers have less confidence in the fairness of the process than winners do.

And then don’t miss this article from Colorado:, where they are having a great time with 65,000 uncounted absentees and voting machine nightmares. There’s a group, CFVI, Coloradoans for Voting Integrity for more information there. I still get emails from them, but there’s not much online so far.