Voting by Mail: An Examination of State and Local Experiences

Absentee Voting has increased dramatically over the past thirty years as a number of states have encouraged its use as a form of convenience voting rather than just a method of voting for those who have reason to be away from the polls. In the past fifteen years, early in person voting has also increased substantially. It is the leading alternative to absentee or mail voting as a form of convenience voting before Election Day. Through voting by mail and voting early in person, nearly one third of Americans voted prior to Election Day in 2008.

In this testimony, I will elaborate on seven key points.

  1. Absentee voting or voting by a mail ballot has expanded greatly over the past thirty years.

  2. Absentee voting is not the only form of early voting, as early in-person voting has also expanded dramatically in recent years.

  3. The variety of practices across the states is vast. Some have very little absentee or early voting. Others have a lot of one, but little of the other. And some states have a lot of both. And states that do have substantial early and absentee voting vary widely in how they conduct this voting.

  4. One great promise of voting before Election Day was that the convenience of such voting would increase voter turnout. But many studies have shown that there is little or no turnout increase from voting absentee or voting early in person.

  5. Aside from turnout, both early and absentee voting have often proved popular among voters and election officials when adopted.

  6. There are some potential negatives to absentee voting, which include the loss of the secret ballot and the possibility of coercion of votes, the greater opportunities for voter fraud from the transmission of the ballot, the possibility that mail ballots will not be properly counted, and the prospect that voting in advance of election day will cause voters to miss important campaign information and will diminish Election Day itself.

  7. There are practical aspects of voting by mail that are taken seriously by some states, but should be taken seriously by all states including tracking ballots, reading signatures, and informing voters if their votes have been counted.

Click here to read this testimony as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

John C. Fortier is a research fellow at AEI.

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