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Vermont Legislative Research Shop

Election Issues

This report contains a discussion of the following election issues:

Absentee Balloting Provisions

21 states allow all registered voters to cast an absentee ballot for any reason. However, in a handful of states one must submit a valid reason to vote absentee; these can be reasons such as a disability or illness, travel, military, school, employment, non-felony incarceration, and religious reasons. While almost anybody can vote absentee, 26 of the states require the voter to personally to request an absentee ballot (Figure 1). In the other half of the states, agents of the voter can request an absentee ballot. These agents can be a parent, guardian, spouse, or caretaker. The Federal Election Committee (FEC) estimates that roughly 35% of the states require the absentee ballot to be notarized while another 18% require an official notarization only if the voter is disabled or unable to sign.

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Figure 1: Absentee Ballot Requests

 

An Analysis of the Effect of Liberal Absentee Balloting

A recent study done by the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate finds that states with more liberal absentee ballot provisions have actually seen voter turnout decrease. The study looked at liberal absentee ballot procedures such as the voter opportunity to request an absentee ballot without specifying a reason, early voting, all mail balloting, and lists whereby citizens have the option to be mailed an absentee ballot. Those states that adopted liberal absentee ballot provisions saw an initial increase of voter turnout with the provisions, but in the long run states have seen a voter turnout decrease greater than states with more restrictive absentee balloting requirements.

In election year 2000, those states that have adopted liberal absentee ballot provisions saw voter turnout increase 1.5% from election year 1996, while those states that did not adopt liberal absentee ballot provisions saw voter turnout increase 2.6%. In election year 1996, those states with liberal absentee ballot provisions saw voter turnout fall by 5.1% compared to election year 1992, and those states that did not adopt liberal absentee ballot provisions saw voter turnout fall by only 3.2% compared to election year 1992. One final measure shows that those states with liberal absentee balloting provisions saw voter turnout decline by .4% from election year 1988 to election year 2000, while those states without liberal absentee balloting provisions saw voter turnout increase by 2.2% from election year 1988 to election year 2000.

Using Election Day registration data in Idaho, New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Wisconsin, the study found that the states, which adopted Election Day registration, had greater increases in voter turnout than the rest of the states. However one part of the study points out that in 1996 when voter interest was low, the decrease in voter turnout in same day election day registration states was greater than for states which had not adopted the election day registration procedure. The study on Election Day registration concludes that in years of heightened interest in elections, Election Day registration actually enhances voter turnout, however Election Day registration is not recommended for every state because it provides no protection against last minute fraudulent registration.

Voter Identification Requirements at the Polls

60% of state polling stations do not require the voter to present identification on Election Day but rather operate under the honor system (FEC 1999) (Figure 2). Harsh voter fraud penalties are in place to prevent people from committing such crime. Of those states that do not require identification on Election Day some request a signature from the voter, while 14% of the states have no voter verification requirements at all.

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Figure 2: ID Requirements at the Polls
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Statewide Voter Files

Many states have created statewide voter files to eliminate any election complications. According to a study by the Council of State Governments’ Elections Task Force, 30 states have statewide voter file systems (Figure 3). Each state has a slightly different method of operating their voter files, as the federal government is not involved in the process. The Michigan QVF

(Qualified Voter File) system, for example, works on a local level in which each 413 sites electronically report to the main server in Lansing. A study done by the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency reported that the QVF cost roughly $7.6 million dollars for startup in 1995/1996, with maintenance fees ranging from $1.06 to $1.4 million dollars yearly. This startup cost equates to roughly $1.32 per registered voter, with costs of .20 per voter per year for maintenance fees.

Texas on the other hand has a much less unified method of organizing a statewide file, giving its 254 counties the choice buying the equipment and participating in the Texas Voter Registration System. This technique has left out the less affluent counties who could not fit the expensive equipment in their budget (Sliwa, Copeland, Tennant 2000). Kentucky currently has a statewide voter system that has been in existence since the late 1980’s. Annual cost is estimated around $2.1 million out of the election boards $3.5 million dollar budget. This equates to costs of 1.03 per registered voter per year. Kentucky’s system requires voters to provide a full Social Security number when they register which prevents duplicate registration (Theobald 2000). If Vermont installed a statewide voter file system similar to that of Michigan annual cost would be $69,600 while a system similar to Kentucky’s would cost $358,440. Many critics of these techniques argue that the lack of statewide voter file standards can make for a faulty or inaccurate voter file.

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Figure 3: Statewide Voter File

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Internet Voting

Over the past couple of years, a major lobbying effort for Internet voting has emerged in Washington. Internet voting got its first test in Iowa in 1999 as part of an experimental program in which voters used the Internet connections alongside their polling stations, only after they have already cast ballots the traditional way (Kornblut 1999). In last spring’s presidential primaries Arizona Democrats made history by becoming the first Americans to cast legally binding ballots over the Internet. In two days at the virtual polls, Arizona Democrats cast more than 18,000 votes. Mark Fleisher who is the chairman of the State’s Democratic Party said that the overwhelming response in Arizona strongly advanced acceptance of the process in general elections. Bill Taylor who is the vice president of Election.com who administered the online voting in Arizona said that the company had got beyond the initial bumps in the internet voting trial, Election.com reported no hacking during the Arizona trial where the company was logging a vote every three seconds (Harrington 2000).

This past November The Defense Department began to allow certain military personnel to cast their ballot online (Einstein 2001). Several states have funded studies and pilot programs to test the effectiveness and possible security risks of Internet voting, though no states have officially allowed it. There are two methods of Internet voting, onsite polling (at official voting locations), or remote polling (unofficial location).

Politicians worry about the privacy and security risks that can arise from allowing people to cast their vote from remote location. The US Commerce Department estimated in 1998 that of the 26% of people online, an overwhelming number of them were white. These statistics fuel critic’s arguments that internet voting would be highly discriminatory in that lower-class Americans have less access to the internet. As a result of this the Federal Election Commission has determined that it is highly unlikely that the Department of Justice would endorse any law implementing widespread Internet voting.

Primary Election Dates

Figure 4 shows the state primary dates for the year 2002 to give a comparison of the general election season (time between the primary and general election). Each state uses its own formula, usually a specific day of the week, so 2002 is just an example. The significance is in the limitation put on the time that a candidate can campaign.

AL

AZ

IA

CT

ME

MD

MI

NH

MT

KS

RI

CA

IN

NJ

ND

MI

DE

VT

NY

NE

OR

NM

SC

MO

FL

WA

MA

OH

TX

IL

PA

NC

WV

KY

ID

SD

VA

UT

GA

TN

CO

WY

AK

NV

WI

OK

HI

LA

AR

5

12

19

23

4,7

14

21,23

28

4

11

25

16

1,6

13

20

27

3,7

10

17

22

5

15

MAR

APR

MAY

JUN

JUL

AUG

SEP

OCT

Figure 4: State Primary Election Dates 2002

Source: Council of State Governments, Book of the States 1999-2000.

 

Works Cited

Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. 2001. "Two Pro-Participation Reforms Actually Harm Voter Turnout; Other Reforms Suggested." (Washington, DC: Committee for the Study of the American Electorate).

Council of State Governments’ Elections Task Force "Innovative Election Practices"

Einstein, David. 2001. "Internet Voting: A Touchy Issue." Forbes Online (www.forbes.com/2000/01/10/feat.html).

Federal Elections Committee. 1999. (http://www.FEC.gov)

Harrington, Mark. 2000. "Internet Voting Tested In Arizona." Washington Post.

Kornblut, Anne. 1999. "Internet Voting to Get First Test in Iowa." Boston Globe Online (http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/305).

Limbs, Eric. 1999. "The Status Of The Qualified Voter File."  Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency.

Sliwa, Copeland And Tennant. 2000. "Voter databases in disarray in many states."  Computer world (http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/story/0,1199,NAV47-70-155-161-167_STO53947_TOPGovernment00.html).

Theobald, Bill. 2000. "Kentucky’s Database Eases Efforts to Clear Rolls" Star News (http://www.starnews.com/news/articles/kenvoter1121.html)

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Compiled by Jesse Kraham, and Nathan Bosshard, on April 2, 2001.