At this point in a closely fought presidential campaign, pundits and pollsters are checking their guts and sifting through data to try to predict November’s winner. Those of us who specialize in election law engage in a more heart-wrenching task: attempting to make an educated guess about the likelihood that one or another election irregularity will lead to a Bush v. Gore-style meltdown. My candidate for the honor of the next potential chad to dangle: absentee ballots. Competition for this year’s biggest potential ballot box nightmare is pretty stiff. We can expect the rise in voter identification laws to lead to some confusion at the polls. This confusion may arise both from the voters who face unfamiliar barriers to entry and from untrained poll workers who must enforce sometimes arcane, novel laws on the fly. This will probably lead to a large number of provisional ballots — the kind a poll worker gives you when they can’t find your name on the rolls. The legality of these would be determined in a post-election recount, if one comes to pass. But the silent, creeping revolution in the timing and method of voting presents bigger opportunities for trouble. In recent years, absentee and mail-in ballots have been steadily rising as a share of total ballots cast. The majority of states now allow “no-excuse absentee” voting, meaning anyone can ask to cast a ballot by mail. You don’t need the political equivalent of a doctor’s note, as was true previously.
According to the Census Bureau, more than 18% of voters in the 2010 election voted by mail. Another 8% voted early but “in person” at a polling place or vote center (a recent innovation that enables out-of-precinct voting). As a result, more than a quarter of voters ended up voting early or absentee — roughly double the rate in the 2000 election. In general, misfeasance — meaning, plain old mistake-making — is a bigger threat to voting than is corruption or malfeasance, and absentee ballots are no exception. Many interactions between the voter and the election authority must work without a hitch for the voter’s absentee ballot to be cast successfully:
The already registered voter must request the ballot; the administrator must receive and process the request; the administrator must in a timely manner send the ballot to the voter; the voter must receive the ballot; the voter must vote correctly, on time and provide the proper verifications (such as the voter’s own signature and/or that of a witness); the administrator must receive the ballot on time; and the administrator must count the ballot.
Full Article: Meet the hanging chad of 2012 – NY Daily News.